South Taranaki Star

‘First aid’ after identity theft

- Rob Stock

OPINION: Identity theft is getting to be a bit like burglary. It feels almost like it’s not a case of if, but when it happens to you.

While there is nothing inevitable about either burglary or identity theft, cybercrime is on the rise. This parallels the increasing digitalisa­tion of our lives, where we bank and shop online. By contrast, since Covid-19 arrived, and more people work from home, burglary rates have been dropping.

The Ministry of Justice’s latest Crime and Victims Survey found 438,000 fraud and cybercrime offences in a 12-month period, compared to just under 250,000 burglaries.

I’ve never been burgled. We did have one attempted break-in, on the day my first child was due to be born, but my wife arrived home, and the burglar slunk away unnoticed, leaving just a broken window to show they were ever there.

My credit card was once compromise­d through no fault of my own, though my bank spotted crooks’ first attempt to use it, and blocked it. But while there are widely-known responses to a burglary (window locks, door and window security screens, alarms, installing cameras and cutting hedges to increase visibility), many people who fall victim to identity theft have no widelyknow­n playbook of responses, and may even be bewildered as to the immediate first aid measures they need to take.

Identity theft happens when some of a person’s identity informatio­n falls into the hands of crooks, usually based overseas in countries like Russia and Nigeria which tolerate their presence.

The ‘‘golden tickets’’ of identity theft are your driver’s licence, your credit card details, and your login details to your online banking. Once crooks have informatio­n like this, they can start stealing your money, or assuming your identity to get loans in your name.

People tend to learn in one of two ways that they are victims of identity thieves. Their bank spots something is wrong and tells them, or they find out themselves in heart-stopping moments when they can’t log in to online banking because someone has changed their password, or they get something like a demand for payment on a loan they did not take out.

They face three challenges at this point; stopping the damage, securing their identity, and undoing the damage done.

The first few hours of a victim’s identity theft first aid and treatment involve calling the lenders involved, and their bank.

They will respond. Banks are usually good at this. Other lenders, sometimes, not so much. Their fraud teams will kick into action. This will include working out, as best they can, what happened, and deciding whether the victim is enough to blame that they should shoulder at least some of the cost.

This is a whole other topic and victims can find they are in a fight for fairness. One of them is likely to suggest the victim gets specialist help from IDCare, a charity funded by the likes of Westpac, ANZ and BNZ, which has helped 500,000 identity theft victims in the past eight years. It helps people develop personal action plans, depending on how their identity was compromise­d.

This can involve getting devices checked for malware, changing passwords to hard-tocrack ones, putting in place layers of protection like two-factor authentica­tion, and getting new identity documents (driver licences, passports) issued.

They will also get the victim to ‘‘suppress’’ their credit file with the three big credit reporting bureaus (Centrix, Illion and Equifax). Checking a credit file can result in discoverin­g new loans taken out in the victim’s name. Lenders who check a suppressed credit file as part of a loan applicatio­n will be on notice that they are dealing with a compromise­d identity.

As one identity theft victim told me: ‘‘File suppressio­n and a new licence will stop these people in their tracks’’. This victim has now set up credit file alerts (at a cost of $69-a-year) so he gets a text each time someone checks his credit file.

Re-securing identities is a long, boring process for victims. It takes time, and they learn some depressing truths about the world, including that lenders can be depressing­ly underwhelm­ing in their protection­s and responses.

 ?? ?? Identity theft happens when some of a person’s identity informatio­n falls into the hands of crooks.
Identity theft happens when some of a person’s identity informatio­n falls into the hands of crooks.
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