First published: 18 May 2020
Last updated: 18 May 2020

Content written for

Individuals & families

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when a cybercriminal gains access to your personal information to steal money or gain other benefits. They can create fake identity documents in your name, get loans and benefits or apply for real identity documents in your name, but with another person's photograph.

The financial and emotional consequences can be devastating for victims. Once your identity has been stolen it can be difficult to recover and you may have problems for years to come.

What type of information do cybercriminals steal?

A cybercriminal may look to steal a range of personal information including your:

  • name
  • date of birth
  • driver’s licence number
  • address
  • mother’s maiden name
  • place of birth
  • credit card details
  • tax file number
  • Medicare card details
  • passport information
  • personal identification number (pin)
  • online account username and login details.

How do you know if your identity has been stolen?

Look out for these common warning signs:

  • Your bank statements show purchases or withdrawals you have not made.
  • You stop receiving mail you may be expecting (e.g. electricity bills) or receive no mail.
  • You receive bills or receipts for things you haven’t purchased or statements for loans or credit cards you haven’t applied for.
  • A government agency may inform you that you are receiving a government benefit that you never applied for.
  • You have been refused credit because of a poor credit history due to debts you have not incurred.
  • You may be contacted by debt collectors.

How to protect yourself and your family

Cybercriminals can learn a lot about you from your social media accounts. Here are some tips to protect yourself and your family:

  • Limit what you share online. Reconsider sharing information on social media like your birthday, photos of a new house that include your address, or photos that identify your children’s school, or details of schools you attended. These details are often used for security questions on financial and other important accounts.
  • Set your social media privacy settings to 'private'. Ensure you’re only sharing your photos and posts with people you know and trust.
  • Don’t accept 'friend' requests from strangers.
  • Cybercriminals try to trick you into giving away your personal information. They often impersonate well-known organisations to ask you to confirm your personal details via messages or websites. Because of this, many companies now state they will not ask you to update or confirm your details, like passwords, PINs, credit card information or account details via links in messages.
  • If there really is a need to update your details, you should do so by typing the organisation's official website address manually into your internet browser and not use links from messages.
  • Think twice before entering your personal details into a website you’re not familiar with. See our advice about shopping online securely and browsing the web securely for questions to ask to help determine if a website is genuine.

Cybercriminals crack weak passwords – there’s even software that guesses billions of passwords per second!

Cybercriminals use bugs in software to gain access to devices.

  • Keep your devices updated with the latest software, including antivirus software. Installing software updates will give you the latest security. You can even set updates to install automatically.

Other tips for protecting your online identity:

  • Think twice about what you access over public or untrusted Wi-Fi. We have published a list of tips to follow when using public Wi-Fi, for example using a VPN.
  • Regularly check your account statements including credit cards, bank statements, telephone and internet bills for possible fraudulent activity.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year to help you catch any unauthorised activity.
  • Always lock your mailbox and shred any sensitive documentation you no longer need.
  • Be wary of phone calls that ask for your personal information.
  • Be wary of people trying to view your PIN while you are using ATMs and making other purchases.

Learn more and get help

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