Privacy Breach of Epic Proportons Puts Australians at Risk
In the modern world criminals go after more than your wallet or your jewellery. You protect your car, you protect your home – but are you doing enough to protect credit information and personal details that could be used to steal your identity?
It can be tempting to think that the companies holding our info have everything covered: they must have all kinds of high-tech wizardry in place to protect credit information and keep our details safe, right? But it turns out that the information you give out might not be as secure as you think. Recently, 77 million people – including over one million Australians – discovered just how fragile systems protecting personal information can be, as hackers gained access to their ‘secure’ personal information in the largest security breach in history. The information included names, birthdates, addresses, passwords and security questions, and disturbingly, there’s no guarantee that credit card details weren’t also accessed.
What makes it even scarier is that even if credit card details weren’t compromised, the hackers got hold of enough personal information to commit all kinds of identity fraud – including applying for credit in the victims’ names – or to create sophisticated scams designed trick people into handing over even more details. When faced with a breach this big, it would be nice to think that we can always tell when something has gone wrong – but most worrying is that Australia currently has no legislation requiring companies to inform customers of privacy breaches. Who knows how often we’ve been exposed to the risk of identity theft, fraud and scams without realising it?
In today’s tech-savvy world, sharing information has become second nature, but have you considered why organisations ask for your information, if you really need to share it, and just how safe it is?
Recent events have let us all know that we can’t rely on other people to protect our identities for us – so it’s important to take steps to ensure that our identities are as secure as possible, and that if someone does get access to our details, we can find out as soon as possible.
Following these simple tips will help you beef up the security around your precious identity:
All applications for credit made in your name are noted on your credit reference file. For a small annual fee, Veda Advantage (Australia’s credit report agency) alerts consumers when an application is made, allowing people to act quickly if the application is fraudulent.
Know your rights
Businesses with an annual turnover of more than $3 million (and some smaller businesses too – check out the site of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner for more details) are covered by the Privacy Act. The Act gives you the right to know why these businesses are collecting your details, who will have access to it and how they’ll use it. Before you hand over any information – make sure you understand what the company wants it for and how secure it will be.
With so many PINs and passwords to keep track of it’s tempting to stick with the same ones, but that’s what identity thieves count on. Change PINs and passwords at least every three months and don’t use the same ones for every account and computer you have.
Limit your risk
Get a debit card solely for internet and phone transactions and sweep funds into it as needed rather than exposing your entire credit limit to risk. Activate the password locks on your computers, gadgets and phones, especially if they are email-enabled – these days losing your phone or iPod can be more than just an inconvenience. Finally, double-check your privacy settings for social network sites and only share information that is absolutely necessary.
In 2009 around 4.4 million Australians were affected by identity theft. Do yourself a favour and learn from their experience – take precautions to protect yourself, so you won’t have to learn from your own experience. We all know it’s important to take steps to protect our belongings from theft – and in the information age, your personal details could be the most valuable possession you have.
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Tags: money management, protect credit, identity theft fraud, credit report agency
Wilson Luna is an author, wealth adviser and founder of Your Family Your Money. Your Family Your Money’s goal is to simplify traditionally complex financial strategies, demystify financial jargon and debunk common financial myths, becoming every family’s first stop for financial advice, information and inspiration.
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