The number of online scams affecting Australians has skyrocketed in recent years, with over a million Australians now having their identity stolen every year at a cost of nearly $1 billion.
The consequences for victims can be significant and long-lasting, potentially resulting in heavy financial losses and affecting credit.
The rising problem has led to calls for governments to take measures to address the situation. Unfortunately, support services are often inadequate, and victims can be left to fight for years to repair the damage.
IDCARE is the only free helpline for Australians and New Zealanders who fall victim to identity fraud. The program is comprised of just 32 people, 29 of whom are volunteers.
Managing Director Dr David Lacey says the government-funded body is overwhelmed, with the number of calls doubling every three months.
Impact of Identity Theft
A report on IDCARE’s first year of operation found that 8% of clients were referred to mental health professionals for face-to-face support as a result of having their identity stolen.
Mr Lacey says many clients exhibit acute anxiety, feelings of depression, weight loss and an inability to sleep. He says it can take just 48 hours for offenders to start using identity information, but an average of 54 days for victims to discover the theft. By then, he says, much of the damage has already been done and it can take months or even years to correct the situation.
Accessing Personal Data
Offenders employ a range of methods to access identity information, including:
- using malware or spyware to hack into computers,
- using data skimmers to duplicate cards,
- gathering information from social media,
- sending emails or making phone calls to request information by claiming to be an authorised source (such as the Australian Tax Office or a bank), and
- building profiles from information left in rubbish bins, or from physically stolen items.
That information can be used to produce duplicate cards, apply for new ones, purchase products online or obtain loans. IDCARE says the average case costs almost $28,000 per victim.
There is an enormous worldwide market for identity information, much of which is traded on the ‘dark web’. LinkedIn previously advised that some 100 million users had their data stolen in 2012, much of which was then offered for sale online.
Preventing Identity theft
IDCARE says a few simple measures can help protect against identity theft:
- Never provide personal information to anyone who emails or calls you,
- Regularly run up-to-date anti-virus software on all internet-enabled devices, including smartphones and tablets,
- Change your passwords regularly, using a different password for each device and site,
- Do not post excessive personal information on social media or websites, and
- Destroy and delete excess personal information kept physically and online.
If your identity is stolen, the organisation recommends that you:
- Call IDCARE immediately (1300 IDCARE) to get free and anonymous tailored advice and support,
- Immediately request credit and debit card bans,
- Request a copy of your credit report to ascertain whether it has been affected,
- Change all passwords, and
- Run up-to-date anti-virus software on all internet-enabled devices.
Online Investment and Dating Scams
Scammers often target the most vulnerable members of society.
A recent report on investment and dating scams found that offenders have been focusing on senior citizens and those who are lonely.
The average amount lost in these types of scam is $8,000 per victim, with eight people being scammed more than $1 million in 2015 – a total cost of $229 million that year alone.
According to ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard:
“… scammers target countries like Australia, they’re aware of our superannuation schemes, they realise people have money to invest later in life and that we’re a wealthy country”.
Many dating scams are run from Nigeria and Malaysia, while several investment scams originate from Asian countries. “There have been occasions where they’ve been operated from Australia but on the whole they seem to be based overseas,” Ms Rickard says.