Rampant identity theft is turning scam victims into the hunted

Ben Riddle lives in Melbourne, works as a landscaper and probably couldn’t name more than one Taylor Swift song.

But for the past six months he’s been fighting allegations that he has scammed multiple people out of tickets to Taylor Swift concerts.

“It was ruining my reputation,” Ben said.

“Friends of friends, obviously not close enough to me to bring it up to me, were messaging saying, ‘I couldn’t believe when I saw that he was a scammer’.”

Ben is just one of many Australians that have fallen victim to identity fraud, and had their own trust turned against them.

A man holding his licence in a park
Scammers steal personal details to create fake accounts on social media platforms, giving them more avenues to scam victims. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

Ben initially was a victim of a scam himself in April, trying to buy tickets to the Essendon-Collingwood ANZAC Day match.

He paid around $300 to someone online and when the tickets never appeared, he accepted he had been scammed.

But when people started messaging him, claiming that he had also scammed them out of money, alarm bells went off.

Ben had made the mistake of sending a picture of his licence to what he thought was a genuine ticket seller.

“Me being a little bit naive, I was like, I’ll send you my a picture of my ID out of goodwill,” Ben said.

He soon realised his identity had been stolen, with multiple accounts using his name and photos appearing on Facebook.

Scammers turned Ben from a victim into scapegoat

What began as an attempt to buy some footy tickets online has now spiralled into a six-month battle to clear his name.

“I’ve had messages from people who have been scammed out of Luke Combs tickets, footy tickets, Taylor Swift tickets,” he said.

Despite constantly reporting the accounts, fake Ben Riddle accounts remain active on Facebook.

“I’ve reported them over and over and over and over again,” Ben said.

“It’s been really hard … there’s no way for me to prove publicly that I’m not a scammer.”

A list of facebook accounts using similar names
Accounts using variations of Ben’s name and photos can be found on Facebook. (Facebook)

Beyond social embarrassment, Ben now worries about the very real dangers that scammers have opened him up to.

He has since moved from the address listed on his licence, but said he has seen online comments from scam victims talking about his former address and how he no longer lived there.

“That means people have been probably going to my old house and affecting other people,” Ben said.

“Knowing that I’m a victim and I’m the one that could be threatened or injured, you never know who you’re dealing with.

“My girlfriend honestly said if we hadn’t moved, she would have been living in an Airbnb feeling scared.”

A man holding his licence in a park
Ben Riddle says his reputation has been affected by people mistaking him for a scammer. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

Facebook crackdown on identity theft

Ben is far from the only victim to have had his picture and identity used to scam other people.

According to promoter Frontier Touring, tickets to the 2024 Taylor Swift concerts haven’t even been issued to legitimate buyers yet and are unable to be resold, but scammers remain common online.

Meta, the company behind Facebook, claims in the second quarter of 2023 the company disabled more than 676 million fake accounts.

“Meta is constantly tackling scams through a combination of technology, such as new machine learning techniques and specially trained reviewers, to identify content and accounts that violate our policies,” a Meta spokesperson said.

“We encourage people to use our in-app reporting tools when they see any suspicious activity.”

A thread of facebook commenters trying to sell tickets
Facebook accounts purporting to sell Taylor Swift tickets are a common sight on the website, despite the tickets not being yet issued by the promoter. (Facebook)

According to IDCARE, Australia and New Zealand’s national identity and cyber support service, since the start of the year more than 74,000 people have reported being the victims of identity theft.

Research manager at the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) Anthony Morgan said online buying and selling were a hotbed for scams and fraud.

“The number one type of fraud that people experience is not necessarily the most costly, but the most prevalent was online buying and selling, so through places such as Facebook marketplace and others,” Dr Morgan said.

“We know from our most recent Cybercrime in Australia report that around one in five online Australian computer users had experienced some form of ID crime and misuse in the previous 12 months.”

A man with a beard
Anthony Morgan says cybercrimes often have a much wider impact than the immediate monetary loss from falling victim to a scammer. (Twitter)

Dr Morgan said while the financial impacts of identity crimes can be low, the high social costs can be incredibly harmful to victims.

“The social impacts of the fact that it impacts people’s trust in other people, that it can lead to increased social isolation,” he said.

“There are health impacts, we know that being a victim of cybercrime can have significant emotional distress on the victim, right through to at the most severe end leading to self-harm of suicide.”

One scam, 27 hours of work

If you’ve had your identity stolen:

  • Contact organisations where your accounts might be breached (banks, superannuation, Services Australia, utilities, social media).
  • Check for any unexpected entries on your credit reports with a credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, illion).
  • If you suspect a criminal may have gained remote access to your device, immediately disconnect from the internet and run antivirus software on your device.
  • Check your email account for any forwarding rules that may have been placed on it.
  • Contact IDCARE to help put together a recovery plan.

Manager of outreach and engagement at IDCARE Sarah Cavanagh said victims of identity fraud will often spend more than a day of their lives trying to repair the damage from a cybercrime.

“If you experienced identity theft, you’re going to have to navigate across up to 13 different organisations and it will take you up to 27 non-consecutive hours, doing everything you need to do to correct what has occurred and protect you moving forward,” Ms Cavanagh said.

“Identity theft is an enduring risk. That risk will always remain once you have been exposed in terms of your credentials, if you don’t take the protected steps you need to do.”

Ms Cavanagh urged anyone who was the victim of an online identity scam to contact IDCARE to triage the issue.

“The situation is overwhelming and frightening, and it can be hard to understand and navigate through all the steps that you may need to take,” she said.

“Through contacting IDCARE, where we can hear the story of what’s happened to you assess your risk, and then build you a tailored step-by-step plan.”

Ms Cavanagh said despite social media sites cracking down on fraudulent accounts, criminals were seemingly one step ahead.

“What we do know about them is [they’re] sophisticated criminal syndicates, predominantly based offshore, and they will continue to adapt their methodology and approaches to try and combat whatever protective measures we’ve put in place,” she said.

Victims frustrated with outcomes

Australian authorities being unable to pursue cybercriminals overseas can add to a sense of frustration felt by many victims.

According to the AIC’s Cybercrime in Australia 2023 report, only about half of the incidents reported by victims were investigated, with 36 per cent of victims who reported to police dissatisfied with the outcome.

It’s a frustration that Ben is feeling now as he attempts to replace his licence and regain his identity.

He said he has reported the incident to police but that they directed him to lodge a report through the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s ReportCyber.

However VicRoads does not accept a ReportCyber report number when processing drivers’ licence changes and instead says it will “consider changing a licence number when there is a reasonable request to do so”.

This requires specific documentation such as a Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate from a local magistrate, a court extract or a direct request from police.

Ben said VicRoads had so far refused to issue him with a new licence, meaning his licence details are still able to be used by scammers.

A Victorian licence
Ben has been unable to get a new licence despite reporting his situation to police. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

In the time since he initially reported it to police, Ben believes scammers have continued to use his licence to impersonate him and open bank accounts to scam others.

“Only a couple of weeks ago my girlfriend was approached by another victim who was adamant I had scammed her, because the bank account was registered in my name,” Ben said.

“I’m sort of stuck in this situation that all my personal details are open to the public.

“I’m assuming there will be further issues down the track with banks and reviewing my financial history for say a home loan … that lack of action could impact me for a very long time after this.”

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  1. I enquired about a car that was advertised for sale. The seller sent me a copy of their licence but I could tell the seller was a scammer. I tracked down the owner of the licence & discovered she was a young woman who had been scammed out of $10000 by the scammer.
    Scammers are the worst! 🤬

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