Job offer lures students ‘straight into identity theft trap’

August 2, 2019 no comment kartik

Identity crimes cost Australia over $2 billion in 2017 and with Australian identity credentials on sale for up to thousands of dollars on the dark web, the modus operandi is getting more sophisticated.

It had been two months since he arrived in Melbourne as an international student but Harjeet Singh Kainth still couldn’t find a job. But then someone responded to a Facebook message offering him work in the transport industry.

“He said I’d have to buy a new phone that’d be compatible with a software needed for the job, and he was going to pay for the phone,” he says.

Mr Kainth says he met his prospective employer in September last year and bought a new mobile phone.

“He gave the bank details for bill payments and took the phone with him saying he needed to load a software on it,” Mr Kainth told.

That was the last time he heard from the man. He didn’t respond to Mr Kainth’s calls and text messages.

“I then gave up thinking I hadn’t lost anything because I didn’t give my bank details. Even if the phone was in my name, I didn’t pay for it,” he says.

Last week, when Mr Kainth applied for a credit card, his application was refused because his credit report showed a default of $2,439. He has now raised a dispute with the telecom company.

He’s not alone. Another student, who wants to be identified only as Mr Singh, found himself in the same situation. They think the same man used their identity to fleece them.

Rishi Prabhakar – a tax practitioner in Melbourne – says people should treat their personal information like they would treat their bank account password.

“But in this case, it looks like they walked straight into an identity theft trap”, he says.

Identity fraud

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the total direct cost of identity-related crime in Australia was $2.1 billion and a further $596 million indirect costs, in 2017.

Fraudsters use stolen identity information, such as name, date of birth address and other details, to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards, start illegal businesses or to apply for a passport.

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, these details may also be used to commit serious crimes, such as money laundering and even terrorist acts.

Identity thieves are after everything that contains your personal information – bank and credit card statements, social media account information, bills, driver’s licence, passport, investment reports, superannuation records, storage media such as USB devices, and any documents that contain your tax file number.

Identity theft can happen in many ways, including by look through your garbage bins for bills and bank statements, stealing your wallet or bag, breaking into your letterbox or home, or hacking into your computer.

In 2016, a Melbourne woman was charged with 90 offences in relation to identity theft.

Using a laptop computer, printer and laminator, the woman was able to alter and create a range of fraudulent identity documents including, driving licences, birth certificates, government concession cards and other forms of photo identification and used them to open bank accounts and obtain credit cards and to order mobile phones.

When police raided her property, they found several bank statements, car registration plates, payslips and credit cards belonging to other people.

Mr Prabhakar says particular care is required while discarding some documents.

“It’s important that any tax or banking information, including your tax file number, shouldn’t be thrown in the bin intact. Because anyone can claim a tax refund if you have your TFN. Shred these documents if you must discard them,” he says.

“If someone asks for your personal information over the phone claiming to be from a government agency or a bank or even your phone service provider, call the organisation and confirm. And always add another layer of authentication, such as receiving a code on your mobile phone,” Mr Prabhakar says.

Sophisticated operation

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology report, Australian identity credentials, such as bank statements, medicare cards, passports etc. are available on the darknet for a price ranging from $20- $3,000.

Hence, the modus operandi to steal your identity is getting more sophisticated. You may receive an email, an SMS or a social media message to ‘phish’ your information by installing a program on your computer that allows them to ‘spy’ on you and track your keystrokes every time you use your computer.

But, according to ASIC’s Money Smart, there are some telltale signs if your identity has been stolen.

The immediate red flags include items you don’t know about showing up on your credit card, receiving bills and loan statements that you didn’t even apply. Difficulty in obtaining credit due to an inexplicably bad credit rating could also be a sign that your identity has been misused.

It says, if the amount of mail you receive is decreasing should also alter you to possible identity theft as it indicates that either your mail is being stolen or redirected somewhere else.

A victim of identity theft?

If you believe your identity has been stolen, report it to the police immediately and ask for a copy of the report. You might have to show it to your bank and financial institution.

Inform your bank or credit provider of what has happened and get them to set up new accounts and PINs for you. Also, tell the credit reporting agency to not authorize any new accounts in your name. You can ask each credit reporting agency to put a temporary ban in place. During this period they cannot share your credit report with credit providers without your consent.

ASIC’s Money Smart recommends that you apply for a Commonwealth Victim’s Certificate that will support the claim that you have been a victim of identity crime. This certificate can be used to re-establish your credentials with businesses and government agencies.

Change your email, social media and bank passwords immediately.

Tips for avoiding identity theft

Never give your personal details to people you don’t know

Check your bank and superannuation statements

Regularly review your credit report- some people may be eligible to receive their credit report without any charge

Secure your mailbox with a lock to prevent mail theft

Shred documents containing personal information before discarding them

Don’t click on suspected links sent via email, text messages or social media

Always use a strong password – a combination of digits, letters and special characters and don’t use the same password for multiple log-ins.

Never use public computers and networks for banking or payments

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