National Identity Fraud Awareness Week opened today and will continue until the end of the week in a bid to raise awareness of identity theft and fraud, as well as to educate businesses and the general public on taking care when distributing personal information either physically or online.
A Web site promoting the campaign cites Australian Bureau of Statistics research indicating that identity fraud has become the fastest growing crime in Australia.
But while May’s Unisys Security Index survey found identity fraud to be the greatest concern for Australians -- topping terrorism and the meeting of financial obligations -- 70 percent of us throw out enough personal information like credit card statements and bills to put ourselves at risk of identity theft.
ABS research conducted between July and December 2007 and released this June found that almost half a million Australians had fallen victim to ID fraud in the 12 months preceding the research, of which over three-quarters was credit card fraud, totaling close to $1 billion in losses. The Australian Federal Police peg the annual cost of identity fraud at up to $4 billion.
According to the ABS, 54 percent of credit card fraud victims were male and 46 percent female, with an average loss of $2,156 per person. The 25 to 34 years age group had the highest number of victims, while professional women in their 20s and 30s were the most common targets.
An additional 124,000 victims across the nation fell victim to some form of identity theft, be it through unauthorised use of personal details such as driver’s licence or tax file number, and through unauthorised appropriation of their identity to conduct business, open accounts or take out loans illegally in their name.
Western Australia suffered the highest victimisation rate for all types of ID fraud at 56,100 people, followed by Victoria with 141,300 and NSW. South Australia enjoyed the lowest rate, at 27,600 victims.
Common forms of identity fraud include credit card skimming; phishing; whaling threats that target enterprise executives; SMS and e-mail scams; trojans that can exploit online banking systems; and the infamous 419 or Nigerian scams that led to a recent partnership between the Queensland Police Service and Nigeria's Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Most recently, American vice-president hopeful Sarah Palin had her e-mail account hacked by someone who was able to reset her password by spending 45 minutes on Wikipedia and Google finding the answers to her “secret” questions. A 20-year-old Tennessee man has since been indicted over the incident.