Last updated: 18 March 2018

Identity theft. Two words that strike fear into the bravest of souls. What some Australians don’t realise is that we may be exposing ourselves to the threat of identity theft by revealing too much of our personal information online or even in our day-to-day lives.

Big life changes such as buying or selling a house, changing jobs, getting married, renting a new home or having kids often requires that you share a lot of your personal details with a third party. Whether it’s applying for credit or filling out paperwork, you’re probably going to have to provide your full name, address, date of birth, maybe even your driver’s licence number and credit card or bank account details and this puts you at risk of having your identity stolen.

But there are also things in our everyday lives that put us at risk. Showing your full name, address and date of birth on social media, shopping online, or logging into your internet banking while on a public Wi-Fi network can increase your chances of having your identity stolen.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from identity theft? Let’s take a look at these 5 tips below.


1. Security is everything

Firewall, antivirus and strong passwords. Seems pretty obvious but it’s worth repeating. Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus software is up to date. Use a different password for each of your accounts and make sure it’s strong. A strong password will include lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers, symbols and the blood of your first born child (okay, maybe not that last one). And of course, don’t share your passwords with anyone.

Now, we’re not saying that you should never give out your personal details online, but be sure you’re using trusted websites. When entering your details, make sure the website URL starts with https and the website has a SSL certificate (there should be a small padlock in the address bar).


2. Monitor your credit file

Entries on your credit file that you didn’t make or have no knowledge of can indicate that someone has used your identity to apply for credit. That’s just one of the reasons why it is important to monitor your credit file.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit file from each credit reporting body in Australia once a year. You can also sign up to a service like Credit Savvy to monitor your Experian credit file and receive alerts whenever there are changes to your file.

For more information, you might like to read our article about why you should monitor your credit.


3. Go through your statements

It’s all in the details. Comb through your credit card and bank statements each month to make sure there are no fraudulent charges to your account. Remember, if someone gets a hold of your credit card or bank account details, they won’t necessarily go on a big spending spree. They might only make a few small purchases as these are less likely to be detected by the fraud monitoring systems used by credit card companies.


4. Check your mail and destroy documents securely

Sometimes we’re a little lax when it comes to checking our mailbox. I mean, who receives mail these days anyway? But did you know that your mailbox can actually be a treasure trove for criminals? The humble catalogue or magazine that you receive contains information that someone could use to steal your identity; your name, address, possibly the barcode or ID number associated with your account. So it’s important to clear out your mailbox regularly and dispose your documents securely. Paper shredders aren’t just for dodgy white collar criminals who need to destroy evidence.


5. Consider using credit over debit

At an Experian conference – The Future of Fraud and Identity – Frank Abagnale, American security consultant and former conman who inspired the movie Catch Me If You Can, discussed the benefits of using a credit card over a debit card.

“A Visa, Mastercard or American Express…I literally spend the credit card company’s money, I don’t spend my money. My money sits in a money market account earning interest. So the only money I expose every day around the world is a credit card company’s money.”

“When I use my credit card and I pay the bill every month, my credit score goes up so I build credit. When I use my debit card…I’m exposing the money in my account. Every time I use a debit card, I do nothing for my credit, use it for 25 years and it’s not going to raise my credit score.”


The bottom line is: be aware. Consider how you might be exposing yourself before giving out your personal details and put safeguards in place to protect your identity.