Nila Sweeney
Identity fraud is big business in Australia, but you can avoid having a double life by adopting some easy strategies. 
A 2011 survey released by the Department of the Attorney-General found one in six Aussies has either been a victim of identity fraud or knows someone whose identity has fallen prey to a con artist.
In Australia, identity fraudsters are estimated to have received – or fraud victims are estimated to have lost - $8.5bn each year.
The UK government found that stolen British credit card details can be bought online for just over AU$1. It costs anywhere between $30 and $70 to create a cloned or fake card that includes a range of personal and financial details.
There are various ways fraudsters attempt to steal someone’s identity. Some will raid people’s bins to find bills, bank statements and other paperwork that discloses one’s personal details. Other cases of identity theft take place through phishing and card skimming - that is, using hidden electronic devices attached to ATMs to capture personal details.
How to prevent identity theft
The campaign behind National Identity Fraud Awareness Week has some helpful tips to help you become an unfortunate statistic:
Frequently check your statements: checking to see if there are any unusual transactions is the easiest way to spot identity theft. With online banking, there’s no need to wait for bi-annual paper statements to arrive in the mail.
Destroy old cards and documents: whether it is expired credit cards or membership cards, old bank statements, anything that contains personal details which you no longer use should literally be in pieces
Lock your mailbox: installing a padlock is a simple way to stop ‘white-collar’ crime, especially if you live in an apartment building where there are many other mailboxes next to yours. 
Equip your computer with up-to-date anti-virus software and anti-spyware
Use a licenced tax agent: anyone can claim to be a tax agent in order to receive your financial details, so make sure you’re using an agent who is listed on the Tax Practitioners Board website
Divert mail: if you’re moving house, using the mail redirection or mail holding service by Australia Post will move your mail to where you want it – rather than allowing your mail to be sent to those who have moved in to your old home.
Create confusing passwords and PINs: change your passwords and PINs regularly, and don’t let these words or numbers be too predictable. If possible, use a combination of numbers and letters in your passwords. Avoid using the same keyword for all your accounts, either.
What to do if you’re a victim…
If your identity has taken a life of its own, report it to the police and cancel any credit cards or accounts that you believe have been tampered with. Contact your bank, credit provider and lenders to alert them of the situation, so that they can keep a closer eye on all of your transactions.
It’s also critical to hold onto bank and credit card statements, so that you have proof of any unauthorised transactions. If someone requests to see these documents, send them photocopies rather than the original document.
-- By Stephanie Hanna

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