Commonwealth logo, ACCC Logo and Scamwatch banner

SCAMwatch homeIdentity theft

Identity theft

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a type of fraud which involves stealing money or gaining other benefits by pretending to be someone else. Having your identity stolen can be both financially and emotionally devastating.

Identity theft can occur in many ways—from somebody using your credit card details illegally to make purchases to having your entire identity assumed by another person to open bank accounts, take out loans and conducting illegal business under your name.

The Attorney-General's Department has produced the Protecting your identity publication to help you deal with and prevent ID theft.

How does identity theft work?

Identity theft works in a range of ways—from crude methods to well organised scams.

Many of us have a wealth of personal information readily available—cards in our wallet, mail, public records, information saved in our computers and information posted on social networking sites.

Identity theft can happen easily and quickly. By leaving your personal information readily available, scammers will have easy access to this information. For example, scammers will pay people to rummage through rubbish tips and steal letters (‘dumpster diving’) to collect personal information.

However, despite your best efforts, a determined scammer can also create elaborate and cunning plans to trick you into providing your personal details. For example:

  • By sending an email that looks like it comes from your bank, financial institution or telecommunications provider. Known as phishing scams, these emails are all about tricking you into handing over your personal and banking details to scammers. Most work by including special links in the email to take you to a combination of genuine and spoofed websites.

  • Phoney fraud alerts are similar to phishing scams where scammers trick you into handing over your personal details. A common fraud alert involves the scammer pretending to be from your bank informing you that your credit card or account has been cancelled because of suspicious criminal activity (various excuses are used). They will then trick you to provide account details to ‘confirm’ your identity.
  • Bogus job opportunities are usually posted on job websites. The scammer may use or sell your personal information provided in the job application.

Warning signs

  • You get an email, SMS or a phone call out of the blue asking you to ‘validate’ or ‘confirm’ banking details.
  • You notice that amounts of money go missing from your bank account without any explanations.
  • The caller pushes you to provide personal information and discourages you from checking if it’s a genuine request.
  • You are unable to obtain credit or a loan because of an inexplicably bad credit rating.

Protect yourself

  • NEVER send money or give personal details to people you don’t know and trust.
  • If you receive a call from your bank or any other organisation, don’t provide your personal details—instead ask for their name and a contact number. Check with the organisation in question before calling back. NEVER rely on a number provided in an email or click on the provided link—instead find the contact number through an internet search or check the back of your ATM card.
  • If you receive a request from a friend or family member stranded while on holiday asking you to transfer money to them, contact them by phone or alternative contact to verify the request is genuine before sending any money or providing personal details.
  • Regularly check your credit card and/or bank statements to ensure that suspicious transactions are detected.
  • Shred all documents containing personal information, such as credit card applications and bank statements.
  • Log directly onto websites you are interested in rather than clicking on links provided in an email.
  • Always get independent advice if you are unsure whether an offer or request is genuine.

Do your homework

Be suspicious if anyone asks you for your personal information. Scammers will use convincing stories to explain why you need to give them money or your personal details.

Always take your time to check whether it is a genuine request. Seeking a second opinion from a family member or friend can be helpful. If you are still unsure about whether an offer or request is genuine, seek professional advice from your bank, an accountant or lawyer.

And remember, a legitimate bank or financial institution will NEVER email you asking you to follow a link or asking you for personal details. If you believe the email is genuine, telephone your bank or financial institution to let them know about the email and ask their advice. DO NOT call using any telephone number listed in the email—use a number that appears on your statement or card or in the telephone book. Many banks and financial institutions now have specialised internet security staff who can help you.


You should NEVER give out your personal or bank account details to somebody you don’t know and trust. NEVER send your credit card or bank details in an email.

Don’t be tricked by an email that looks legitimate or appears to link to a genuine website. The best defence is to delete the email before you even open it and then contact your bank.

If you receive a phone call that you think may be genuine, you should not ignore the possibility that there actually has been some fraud with your bank account or credit card. Ask the caller for details, then hang up and call your bank or credit union to tell them what has happened. Make sure the phone number you ring is genuine—use a number that appears on your statement or card or in the telephone book.

Report them

If you think your identity has been misused, you should contact your bank or credit union to let them know. You can also report a scam to SCAMwatch.

Tell your friends and family about the scam so they know what to be on the look out for if they are targeted.

Related scams

Requests for your account information ('phishing' scams)
Phishing emails are fake emails usually pretending to be from banks or other financial institutions. Scammers make up some reason for you to give your account details and then use these details to steal your money.

Phoney fraud alerts
Scammers pretend to be from your bank or financial institution and tell you that there is a problem with your account. They ask for your account details to protect your money, but then use these details to steal your money.

Credit card scams
There are many types of scams that aim to steal your credit card details, either by taking the card itself or by tricking you into giving them the card’s details.

Card skimming
Card skimming is the illegal copying of information from the magnetic strip of a credit or ATM card. This can create a fake or ‘cloned’ card with your details on it.

Spyware and key-loggers
Spyware is software that spies on what you do on your computer. Key-loggers record what keys you press on your keyboard. Scammers can use them to steal your online banking passwords or other personal information.

Work from home scams
Employment opportunities that promise huge incomes with little work—usually by asking you to transfer money for someone else or recruit new victims.

Printer friendly
Quick links

© Commonwealth of Australia 2015