With the explosion of technology over the last couple of decades, and the ever-growing amount of personal data that most of us store online, identity theft has become increasingly common. The Department of Internal Affairs estimates that as many as 133,000 New Zealanders have their identity stolen every year. Criminals who steal people’s identities use them for a range of purposes, such as gaining access to money or services they aren’t entitled to, or avoiding prosecution for their own offences by pretending to be someone else.
So, how do you know if your identity has been stolen, and what can you do about it?
Warning signs that someone has stolen your identity:
· Unexplained bank account activity
· Unexplained charges on your credit card
· Enquiries on your credit report for lending you didn’t request
· Your regular mail stops arriving
· You receive bills for services you haven’t used
· You are contacted by debt collectors about debts you didn’t incur
· Inland Revenue records show you’ve received a tax refund you didn’t apply for
If any of these situations has occurred, it’s possible that someone is using your identity. To secure your personal information you should immediately take the following steps:
Contact your bank
If your bank account or credit card shows suspicious activity, call your bank and get them to place holds on all your ATM, debit and credit cards. If accounts have been opened that you didn’t authorise, ask for them to be closed. If necessary, open completely new bank accounts. Change your internet banking login details, too.
Call the police
Report your identity theft to the police and ask for a copy of the police report so you can show it to your bank, utility companies, IRD, or anyone else you may need to contact about the issue.
Change your passwords
Update the passwords for all your email, social media, online shopping and entertainment subscription accounts, as well as any others you think may have been compromised. If you use a good password manager, it will make it easy to identify how many passwords you have, and you can use it to generate new, stronger passwords that are less easy for people to hack.
Contact any affected companies or agencies
If you suspect the identity fraud involves legal documents like your passport, driver licence, birth certificate or IRD number, get in touch with the relevant agency to report it. Similarly, contact any insurance companies, utility providers or other businesses who have been affected.
Check your credit report
You can obtain a copy of your credit report from Credit Simple. Ask them to make a note on your file that your identity has been stolen, and check your report to make sure there are no enquiries on it from companies you haven’t dealt with. If there are, contact those companies to find out whether someone has tried to set up an account in your name.
The steps above are a good overview, but if you require further information, the Department of Internal Affairs has a comprehensive online checklist that gives in-depth instructions about how to deal with every kind of identity fraud.