IF SOMEONE steals my date of birth what can they do?
This is a very common question asked across the country by people who are concerned about identity theft.
Let me give some perspective first. The preferred credential of choice for identity thieves is driver licence numbers. Not the licence itself, but the number.
There is so much an identity thief can do with this number because it is universally relied upon as the most common form of proof of identity.
About a third of all people engaging with Australia's national identity theft support service experience the compromise of their driver licence number. The added complexity to these cases is that most driver licence issuers are reticent to issue a new number.
Like your Tax File Number, these numbers don't change.
You have to go back several decades to find out why.
At the end of the 1990s the Commonwealth Government undertook an audit of the TFN system.
The audit conducted by the ANAO found that there were several million more TFNs floating around than individuals and businesses requiring them.
That's a problem, particularly when the deceased may still be claiming tax refunds.
The reaction to these findings tended to treat the symptom rather than the cause so they issued one number for life!
Putting history aside, then what about the humble date of birth?
Well, it's still a commodity for criminals. Not typically in gaining direct access to goods and services in someone's name, but in enabling the provision of more of your personal information.
If a criminal has your date of birth, name and address it can make the art of deception much easier.
The criminal can call, email or post the prospective victim.
They can pretend to be big business or big government, organisations that you legitimately interact with.
Given these organisations know you, the deception becomes relatively easy for the criminal in convincing you that they are legitimate.
I know some in the community shake their heads and wonder how people can be so naïve, so gullible.
Well, given the almost inevitable bureaucracy that big organisations create, the art of deception is radically in the criminal's favour in such instances.
At iDcare we call it Victim Enabled Identity Theft. It represents around 20% of all cases and can have dramatic emotional impacts for our clients.
Unfortunately a little information, like a date of birth, address and name, can go a long way. To protect yourself, never provide personal information to someone who calls you. Be a selfish consumer. If it sounds legitimate, pause. Ask for their details and call them. Then do your own checking. I've seen my share of criminals impersonating energy companies, banks, the ATO, Australia Post and many other organisations that have a big footprint across the community.
These organisations are chosen by criminals because the likelihood of their targeted victim having an existing relationship is very high.
Dr David Lacey is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems at the University of the Sunshine Coast and is a board member of iDcare.
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