Identity theft 

Why is it so important to be careful with your personal information?

You may not think twice about entering your name, address and birth date when you register on Facebook (or other online service), for example. It might be nice to get lots of messages on your birthday and for your Facebook friends to know where to send presents. But someone can use that same information to steal your identity.

Identity theft is a type of fraud. It is when someone uses your identity information (e.g. birth date, address, height and eye colour, passport number, driver licence number) so that they can pretend to be you.

When someone has your identity information, they could (and these are just a few examples): 

  • take out a loan in your name (they’d get the money and you’d be left with the repayments or bad credit history), 
  • avoid punishment for their own driving offences (you’d be sent all the infringement and fines notices), 
  • apply for and collect benefits you may be entitled to,
  • sign up to rental  services and incur multiple late fees (which you would be asked to pay)

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How can someone steal my personal information?

People actually give away personal information e.g. on Facebook or other social media sites. Unless you can have the right privacy settings (and perhaps even if you do), information held on these sites could be accessible to anyone and everyone.

Some of the ways it can be stolen from you include:

  • going through your rubbish to find your bank and credit card statements
  • looking over your shoulder when you’re at an ATM or EFTPOS terminal
  • stealing your wallet
  • calling you, pretending to be from a government agency or other legitimate business
  • phishing i.e. sending you emails designed to appear as though they are from a legitimate business, asking for your personal information (e.g. PIN number for your bank account)

More information about how your personal information can be stolen, is on the Department of Internal Affairs website.

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How vulnerable is my personal information?

You can test your privacy awareness by answering 11 quiz questions. It will give you an idea of where you can improve the security of your personal information.

Advice for protecting your identity information is provided by:

You can also read our page on scams.

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What should I do if I think I’m a victim of identity theft?

The Department of Internal Affairs has advice on what to do, depending on whether:

  • your documents have been lost or stolen (e.g. drivers’ licence, EFTPOS card, passport),
  • your mail has been stolen or misdirected,  
  • you’ve received suspicious mail or phone calls (e.g. a finance company calls you about a loan you did not take out) or
  • you discover strange transactions have occurred (e.g. you bank account shows withdrawals that you didn’t authorise). 

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If I lose my DVD rental card and someone else uses it to rent movies, could I be liable for the overdue fees?

If you lose your video card, it’s best to inform the video store as soon as you realise it is missing and ask them to cancel it. Otherwise, you may have to pay all charges that someone else runs up on your card, including late fees and video/DVD replacement fees.

If you tell the video store, they may reduce or cancel the charges owing - but this would be at their discretion.

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What can I do if an organisation has mishandled my personal information?

If you believe someone has breached the Privacy Act in their responsibility for your personal information, you should first contact them to tell them about it.

You can get advice on how to proceed calling the Privacy Commissioner’s enquiries line 0800 803 909 or email them.

If complaining to the organisation responsible has not resolved the issue, you can complain to the Privacy Commissioner.