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Identity theft - What is it?

July 26, 2016

Identity theft is using the identity information of another person to pretend to be them. This can have serious impacts on people’s lives, if they are no longer able to prove who they are. When we talk about identity theft, identity means the facts about you that the government and businesses use to establish who you are.

These are often your:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • current address

In some cases, a number that is attached to your account, such as an IRD number.

Your IRD number, for example, is probably not all that important to you until you need it. You might also not think about telling someone your full name and date of birth (on a social networking site, for example). However, for someone with malicious intentions, your name and date of birth are powerful pieces of information that can unlock a lot about you. You can try searching your name on the Internet and see how much information comes up, you may be surprised.

Your identity information is valuable and important. It enables you to do many things, such as work, receive government benefits and prove that your assets belong to you. It is the first thing that will be asked for when you call a company or government agency. By staying aware of your own identity information and protecting it, you can lower your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Identity crime (which includes creating false identities) may cost the New Zealand economy as much as $209 million every year. As many as 133,000 New Zealanders may be victims of identity theft annually. Identity theft is a crime that is difficult to prosecute people for (it may have been committed overseas or online) and it can also take a long time to resolve.

Identity crime is a global problem and New Zealanders tend to be trusting people, which could make this country appear to be a soft target. This is why vigilance and awareness are vital. While the methods of identity theft change frequently as the criminals adapt, there are a number of simple things you can do to protect yourself.

There are a number of things you can do to protect your identity information:

  • Be careful with your identity information, how much you give out and who you share it with. If someone asks for your identity information, ask why the organisation or individual needs it, and what they intend to do with it.
  • Be cautious, identity crime does not always result from information that is stolen; people often give it away by publishing it in public places (e.g. date of birth posted on a social networking website).
  • Never give any personal information to telemarketers, door to door sales people or market researchers
  • Keep key documents that are used to establish your identity (e.g. birth certificate and passport) in a safe and secure place.
  • Never provide your personal details to anyone that calls you or contacts you via email. Criminals may pretend to be from your financial institution. If this happens, use caution. If you believe it to be legitimate, ask for the person's name, department and call the financial institution directly to be sure you are speaking to a genuine employee.
  • Make sure you properly dispose (shred or burn) of bank statements, electricity bills and any piece of correspondence with your name and address on it. These documents should never be put in public rubbish bins or recycling bins. Consider getting your statements provided online – it’s good for you and the environment too.
  • If you use Internet banking, do not log on from a shared or public computer, such as an Internet café, to make any sensitive transactions.
  • Make sure you use secure passwords rather than simply your name or anything very easy such as password123.
  • Make sure you use virus protection software on your home computers.
  • Remove all personal information from computers before you dispose of them.
  • Use a lock on your letterbox and make sure that you place mail holds or mail redirects if you are travelling or change address.
  • Never allow shop assistants or waiters to take your credit or debit cards out of your sight when completing transactions. This can help to prevent 'skimming' where thieves take your credit card details to use again later.
  • Always shield the keypad when you enter your PIN into an Automatic Teller Machine. If you suspect that the ATM may have been compromised, do not use it and try to advise the owner.
  • Be suspicious of any unexpected events (e.g. letters from creditors, bank transactions you can’t remember making) that could be the result of identity crime.
  • request an access register report from Births, Deaths and Marriages at the Department of Internal Affairs. This is a free service that allows people to find out who has applied to access their records (e.g. whether or not a certificate/printout was issued) since 25 January 2009.
  • request a credit report from Dun & Bradstreet or Veda. Note that from 1 April 2012 a "positive" credit reporting system will operate in New Zealand. Further changes to the credit report system can be found on the Privacy Commissioner website

If you have concerns you could;

  • request an access register report from Births, Deaths and Marriages at the Department of Internal Affairs. This is a free service that allows people to find out who has applied to access their records (e.g. whether or not a certificate/printout was issued) since 25 January 2009.
  • request a credit report from Dun & Bradstreet or Veda. Note that from 1 April 2012 a "positive" credit reporting system will operate in New Zealand. Further changes to the credit report system can be found on the Privacy Commissioner website

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