Identity theft

Identity theft is a type of fraud that involves using someone else's identity to steal money or gain other benefits.

Common methods of identity theft

  • Phishing - the scammer tricks you into handing over your personal information.
  • Hacking - the scammer gains access to your information by exploiting security weaknesses on your computer, mobile device or network. Scammers can also obtain your information when they hack into business or government accounts.
  • Remote access scams - the scammer tricks you into giving access to your computer and paying for a service you don't need.
  • Malware & ransomware - malware tricks you into installing software that allows scammers to access your files and track what you are doing, while ransomware demands payment to ‘unlock’ your computer or files.
  • Fake online profiles - the scammer sets up a fake profile on a social media or dating site and sends you a ‘friend’ request.
  • Document theft - the scammer gains access to your private information through unlocked mailboxes or discarded personal documents such as utility bills, insurance renewals or health care records.
  • Data breaches - the scammer obtains your data through accidental data breaches of business or government accounts. You may not even be aware that some of your information has made its way to scammers.

What scammers do with your personal information

With your personal information, scammers can:

  • access and drain your bank account
  • open new bank accounts in your name and take out loans or lines of credit
  • take out phone plans and other contracts
  • purchase expensive goods in your name
  • steal your superannuation
  • gain access to your government online services
  • access your email to find more sensitive information
  • access your social media accounts and impersonate you to scam your family and friends.

Warning signs

Before stealing your identity scammers will target your personal information. Watch out for the following signs.

  • You receive an email, text or a phone call out of the blue for personal information.
  • You receive an email or text asking you to ‘validate’ or ‘confirm’ your personal details by clicking on a link or opening an attachment. The message may be poorly written or contain grammatical errors.
  • There are unexpected pop-ups on your computer or mobile device asking if you want to allow software to run.
  • You receive a friend request from someone you don’t know on social media.
  • Your mailbox has been broken into.

Warning signs that your identity has been compromised

  • You are unable to log into your social media or email account, or your profile has been logged into from an unusual location.

  • You notice that amounts of money go missing from your bank account without any explanation.
  • You are refused a financial service or an application for a loan or your credit card has been declined.

  • You receive bills, invoices or receipts addressed to you for goods or services you didn’t purchase yourself.

  • You are contacted by businesses or individuals who believe they have been dealing with you even though you have had no contact with them.

Protect yourself

  • Do not open suspicious texts or emails – delete them.
  • Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
  • Never send money or give credit card, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
  • Never provide strangers remote access to your computer – you never really know who you're dealing with.
  • Choose passwords that would be difficult for others to guess. Don't use the same password for every account and don't share them with anyone.
  • Secure your networks and devices with anti-virus software and a good firewall. Avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access or provide personal information.
  • Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.
  • Put a lock on your mailbox and shred or destroy any documents containing personal information before disposing of them.
  • Find out how to get a free copy of your credit report from the ASIC MoneySmart or Office of the Australian Information Commissioner websites. Your credit report contains important information on your credit history and is useful for checking that no one is using your name to borrow money or run up debts.

Have you been scammed?

If you think you have provided your account details, passport, tax file number, licence, Medicare or other personal identification details to a scammer, contact your bank, financial institution, or other relevant agencies immediately.

You can also contact IDCARE – a free government-funded service which will work with you to develop a specific response plan to your situation and support you through the process. Visit the IDCARE website or call 1800 595 160 (if in Australia) or 0800 121 068 (if in New Zealand), or use their free Cyber First Aid Kit.

We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.

We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.

Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.

More information

Stay Smart Online - Practical tips on how to stay safe online

ID Theft - Informative video by Strathfield Council

Scams Awareness Week 2020