Avoiding identity theft

Identity theft is something which most of us think happens to other people, but it’s estimated that one in five Australians are affected each year at a cost of $3 billion.

The increase of online activity maybe a contributing factor, but it’s often something as simple as accessible street mail which causes problems for ordinary Australians. So, what steps can you take to avoid becoming a victim of one of Australia’s fastest growing crimes?

Ensure your mail is secure

With many homes having a mailbox which either doesn’t lock, or on which the lock is flimsy, you may wish to consider a PO box. Not only will this save you from giving out your home address, but you can also safely store your mail if you’re away from home. There is a cost to this service – $25 establishment fee and $107 annually if you renew before 31 March each year.

Limit your street mail

While there are security concerns surrounding online bank accounts and credit cards, if you follow the correct protocols, your money and identity are actually pretty safe. So you may want to consider switching to online bills and statements, which means that the chance of having your mail and personal details fall into the wrong hands is greatly reduced. Many suppliers and financial institutions also charge for paper statements sent through the mail, so you could actually save money by making the switch.

Shred documents no longer required

Meticulous filing is good, but consider how long you actually need to keep statements, bills and receipts which may contain personal details. Even junk mail can have a value, particularly if it’s offering a new credit product or limit increase, so rather than simply tossing in the bin, invest in a good shredder.

Close inactive accounts

While this may seem highly unlikely, there are those who have credit accounts which are inactive and often unmonitored. Perhaps you’ve transferred a balance from one card to another but never thought to close the old one. Or maybe you’ve switched banks and only have a few dollars in the old account about which you’re unconcerned. If you’ve forgotten about these accounts, it is possible that someone could have intercepted a replacement card sent to you. Close them if they are no longer needed.

Check your credit report

This isn’t something you need to do every month, but it is a worthwhile exercise. Not only will you be alerted to anything unusual, you’ll also be able to see who has accessed your record and decide whether or not they had the authority to do so. Credit reporting companies are obliged to provide a free copy of your report, but you may have to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive. If you need a copy quickly, there is a charge involved.

If you’re concerned about identity theft, think you may have inadvertently been a victim or have received mail which you don’t think is legitimate, then visit Scamwatch.gov.au.

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