MAY 22, 2024 / Scams

How can you avoid identity theft?

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Your online identity isn’t just the pictures you post to social media – and keeping it safe is paramount.

When we talk about online identity, a lot of people assume that it’s just to do with how you present yourself on social media services such as Facebook or Twitter.

However, your online identity is far wider than that. You probably do your banking online, you’ve almost certainly done some shopping online, and often the easiest way to deal with government services is using an online portal.

Sure, it’s not “easy” in that latter case, but the reality regardless is that all of these services use your online identity for verification and provision of services, whether you’re buying socks, doing your taxes or checking how much you’ve got left to pay on your mortgage.

Simply put, your online identity has real value, and if it’s “stolen” – not removed from your person but pilfered and copied – then the consequences for you can be devastating.

How big a problem is identity theft in Australia?

The losses that individuals can accrue can be massive. The ACCC’s Scamwatch unit estimates that in 2022, Australians have lost more than $4.5 million to identity theft scams, with $1.2 million pilfered in May 2022 alone.

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How do criminals make money from my identity?

There’s a variety of ways that online criminals can make money from your personal details.

Financial scams are the most common, and often the simplest identity theft scams too. If you’ve ever called your bank, insurance company or other utility, you’ve probable been asked for your address and date of birth.

The company is doing this to verify that you are who you say you are. If a criminal gets those details, they can call up and change addresses for new credit cards, possibly transfer money or change online banking passwords. That can lead to not only financial loss, but also loss of access to your accounts.

With your personal details, it’s also feasible for criminal types to try to fraudulently get identity documents of their own or forge them using your credentials. That could lead to legal consequences for you down the track, or difficulty in getting your own documents verified or renewed.

Your identity can also be used to fool others, including close friends and family members.

It’s often called the “Hi Mum” scam, and it uses platforms such as WhatsApp or simple SMS messages to suggest that you’ve broken their phone – which is why they’re getting the message from an unknown number – but that you needs money to deal with a crisis.

How can I protect myself from identity theft?

  1. Think about what you share online: Your information has value, but that means you have to be very careful about how and where you share it. Take for example a birthday celebration, something lots of people share on social media. If you don’t have your account locked down to private, those photos could be viewed by third parties. You might not care that criminals know what kind of cake you had, but if the photos also say that you’re celebrating your thirtieth birthday on that day, then they instantly can discern your birthdate. That’s the same birthdate your bank will ask for if you call them up.
  2. Don’t click unknown links: If you get an email, SMS or other message out of the blue, be very careful about clicking on it. It’s a super common way to fool you into entering your details into what looks like an official website. What it’s actually doing is harvesting your information so that it can be used fraudulently.
  3. Perform regular digital hygiene checks: If you’ve not used an online account for a while, it’s worth carefully logging in and checking activity every once in a while. If an account or service is compromised, you’ll see activity on that account that isn’t yours, whether it’s suspicious bank charges or orders for items you never bought.

What can I do if I’ve been a victim of identity theft?

If you fear you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is contact the relevant company or agency – so that’s your bank, government departments and so on – through their regular communication channels. Never, ever use a link provided by a suspicious message; search it up online and use the contact form or details on the official site instead.

The Government also runs a free service called IDCARE that can help you work out specific solutions to identity theft crime. You’ll find them online at or over the phone on 1800 595 160.

The ACCC’s Scamwatch service can’t help resolve identity theft crime issues, but it’s also worth reporting to them at as well. Your information can help to educate others about scams, as well as help disrupt the activities of scammers on an ongoing basis.

More cyber security tips and tricks to help to keep you safe online:

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Photo of Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.