Everyone will have their identity stolen online at least once in their lifetime, research from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department shows.
This week is Stay Smart Online week, an initiative put together by the same department. Their report, released last year, found more than 1.6 million Australians over the age of 15 have experienced identity theft in the 12 months prior to the research.
“That’s an incredible statistic. When you look at that statistic, the conclusion you have to draw is ‘well it’s going to touch on us in some point in our lives,” David Lacey, senior research fellow at University of the Sunshine Coast and international expert in identity security told ABC radio.
According to Lacey, there are two ‘stages’ of identity theft. Compromise and misuse.
Identity compromise is the actual “stealing” of identity.
“The most common [compromising tactics] affecting Australians now is fishing emails and telephone scams,” Lacey said. “These are calls you get saying you owe money or a message that there’s a virus on your computer. That’s how your identity might be compromised.”
Misuse is when this information is misappropriated to set up accounts on social media or for different services.
“It might be setting up Facebook pages or it might be accounts with financial institutions or mobile phone carriers,” Lacey said.
This is not just as simple as having your credit card stolen or losing your bank card. It’s about using all your details – your tax file number, your driver’s license, your bank details – to create debt and make money for the individuals involved.
Think: applying for a credit card; opening a bank account; applying for government benefits; applying for a driving license; registering a vehicle; applying for a passport; applying for a mobile phone; applying for a job. The options are endless.
The financial impact of having your identity stolen can be huge.
“Data from the national support service idcare points towards around $28,000 per client,” Lacey said. “It’s no wonder people are looking into email encryption. It’s not so much the emails themselves, but the information that can be found within email accounts.”
Email encryption uses cryptography – like codes – to prevent the content of the email from being read by people other than the designated recipients. Lacey says there are free end-to-end email encryption services available that should not be underestimated in protecting yourself from identity theft.
Email encryption aside, Lacey says awareness and protecting your devices from viruses are integral to staying safe online.
The reason why these people succeed is because the target doesn’t know what the deception is. The best way to prevent it is to talk about it,” he said. “There’re 20 million viruses created every three months. Your antivirus is only as good as it’s last update. And that’s on all internet facing devices. Also, passwords. Make them difficult and change them regularly.”
So, to protect yourself online you should:
Look into email encryption
Keep your anti-virus software up to date
Make your passwords difficult and change them regularly
Be wary of any online offers or emails that require financial information from you