It’s a sad reality that one of the world’s fastest growing economies is cybercrime. Thanks to the rapid digitalisation of people’s lives online, data breaches are expected to cost more than $2 trillion globally by 2019.

While a great deal of cybercrime is targeted at the corporate world – industrial espionage or stealing valuable data such as the 2013 Yahoo! breach where more than a billion users were at risk of having had their personal information stolen – private individuals are also being targeted.

In Australia, recent figures show those aged over 55 are vulnerable; there’s been an 18 per cent rise in identity theft cases in the last financial year. The Attorney-General’s department says identity crime costs us more than $1.6 billion a year.

So why is identity theft such a big deal? Put simply, it can really muck up your life. If you lose access to your bank accounts or your mobile phone, for example, it can mean everything is on hold as you re-establish your bona fides. In some cases, this can take months.

Once criminals have stolen your personal information, they can do a wide range of things including: apply for credit cards and run up debts in your name, apply for various financial services pretending to be you, and even apply for a passport or driver’s licence claiming to be you.

ScamWatch, the website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), says identity theft is becoming increasingly common. ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper told WYZA there are a few reasons why Australians over 50 are being targeted.

Watch these tips to stay safe online

“It’s more likely that they often have a substantial financial nest egg, have a good credit rating and they’ve been brought up to be more polite and trusting of established authority,” he says.

“People in this age group are often reluctant to report a scam,” he adds. “They don’t want to tell family or relatives; there is a shameful element to it. They don’t want others to think they’re not ‘all there’.

“And a lot of scams take place online and there is a still of group of older Australians who aren’t all that confident about using online tools.”

Michael Schaper says some of the more common identity scams doing the rounds include the impersonation of government organisations such as the Australian Tax Office (ATO) or a well-known company such as Telstra or a court claiming you’ll be subpoenaed unless you provide personal information.

“We see this ploy where you might get an email from the ATO saying, ‘We need this information, so just click on here’ and it plays to people’s fears or concerns that they must act,” he says.

Some of the ways you could become aware you’ve been the victim of identity theft include: you receive a bank or credit card statement with purchases or items you don’t recognise; you apply for a government benefit but you’re informed you’re already claiming; you receive bills or invoices for goods you haven’t ordered; you receive letters from debt collectors for debts that are not yours.

The best ways to avoid being the target of identity theft include:

  • Don’t ever open any suspicious text messages or emails. Delete them. 
  • If someone calls you purporting to be from an organisation, hang up and call them directly. Find them through an independent source such as online. Do not use any contact details given in a message sent to you. 
  • Never send money to people you’ve met online or give information by email about your credit card or online accounts to anyone you don’t know or trust. 
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software and a good firewall. Try not to use WiFi hotspots. 
  • Be careful what you share on social media. Avoid posting details such as your date of birth. Scammers can use this information (and photos) to create a fake identity or target you with a scam. 
  • Put a lock on your letterbox and shred any documents with personal information.

Have you been a victim of online fraud? Share your experiences here. 

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