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How identity takeover can happen

20 December 2012

In this article, I will explain how identity takeovers can occur.  Understanding how identity fraud works will help you to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.

Step 1 – Interception
The first thing criminals need to take over your identity is to intercept whatever information they can about you.  They do this through:

• Stealing your mail to obtain bank statements or bills
• Dumpster diving through your bins to find any documentation you have thrown out instead of shredding
• Search the internet and social networking sites for any information about  you, such as birthday (Facebook), recent activities (Facebook, twitter, etc), job details (LinkedIn), etc
• Using Trojans and viruses to hack into your computer to obtain your banking details, personal information, emails, etc
• Sending phishing emails to trick you into divulging your personal information or online credentials

Using these methods, criminals can ascertain your banking details, regularly financial activities, salary, employer, date of birth, and a whole myriad of other personal information about you.  Sometimes the gathering of your personal data can take weeks, or even months, until they have  sufficient information to carry out the next step in  misappropriating your  finances and your good name.

Step 2 – Misappropriation
Once the criminals have your information they can use it to do the following:

• Access your accounts (transaction, savings, superannuation) and transfer your money elsewhere
• Open accounts in your name to conduct criminal activities such as money laundering
• Apply for credit cards, loans and home loans – draw down the loans or spend all credit leaving you with a substantial amount of debt in your name

A customer’s experience
“I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t log into my internet banking. I called the Bank and was advised that I had called them to change my password a few days ago, which was impossible as I have been using this password for years.  I went to a branch to sort things out and discovered that $10k was paid out of my account to someone I didn’t know.  The Bank’s fraud area told me I had been the victim of an identity takeover and somehow someone had got enough information about me to call the Bank to get a new password to my internet banking.

After talking to the Bank about how this could have happened to me, I went back to check my bank statements and realised that I hadn’t got my latest mortgage statement or credit card bill.  I told a neighbour and she said she had seen some suspicious looking men handing around our mail boxes a few weeks ago but she hadn’t really thought any more about it.  I called my husband at work to let him know what had happened and the told me that someone had called the house a few nights ago when I was out.  They told him they were from my Super fund and just needed to confirm my date of birth.

I couldn’t believe what has happened.  Luckily the Bank was very good.  I got my money back and extra security was put on my internet banking.  I now get all my bank statements online and I’ve put a lock on my letter box.  The Bank also arranged for my credit file to be monitored in case these people had applied for any credit cards or loans using my name I would never have thought this was possible; it’s really opened my eyes.  I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, it’s a horrible feeling to think that some stranger knows all about you.”

What to do if your identity has been taken over?
Westpac is committed to protecting you and your accounts from any fraudulent activities.  In the event that you believe your identity has been compromised or used fraudulently, contact the bank immediately.  We will investigate the incident and step you through ways to help you protect yourself in the future.

For more information on how to protect yourself from identity takeover, visit our Security page and have a look at our Identity Theft checklist. To view please click here.