A prominent Welsh comedian has called for governments to insist on stricter checks by creditors to help combat the growing issue of identity theft.
Bennett Arron, who was a keynote speaker at the AusCert 2011 Information Security Conference Overexposed, says creditors merely reimbursing identity theft victims in lost monies is not an adequate solution to identity fraud, and can still leave victims financially crippled if their credit file has been tarnished.
“Many companies and banks are too quick to take on clients and say that they will take any consequences themselves. What they don’t understand is that it’s not the money aspect which is the problem it’s the affect it has on [the victim’s] credit rating”, Mr Arron says.
Arron was a victim of identity theft in the 1990’s in the UK, which left himself and his pregnant wife homeless and penniless.
“There were thousands of pounds of debts – in my name. So as far as the Credit Companies were concerned, the debts were mine. It took me almost two years to clear my name and regain a good credit rating” he says.
The fraudster, who had moved into Arron’s old address, received a pre-printed shopping card with Arron’s personal details on it, which he then used to purchase credit in several places. Arron says at the time, if more checks had been carried out the fraudsters may not have gotten away with it.
“The perpetrator had even used a false date of birth – but no one verified it” he says.
Arron went on to make a TV documentary, called How to steal an Identity, in which he demonstrated how easy it was to steal an identity in the U.K. He obtained a driver’s licence in the name of the then home secretary, Charles Clark.
Arron has since been speaking out about his experience with identity theft, in an attempt to raise awareness of the issue globally.
A national credit repairer says Arron’s case is a pertinent example of how many people can be caught out with identity theft. He says mail getting into the hands of a fraudster is a common way people can become victims of fraud. The effects can be felt for up to 5 years in Australia if someone’s credit file is affected.
“Unfortunately more and more of our clients are faced with the issue of identity theft. Once the fraud impacts someone’s credit rating, they are often unable to obtain even a mobile phone in their name. It need not be large-scale fraud to be a massive blow to the victim’s financial future” Graham Doessel, Director of MyCRA says.
Once an unpaid account goes to default stage, the account may be listed by the creditor as a default on a person’s credit file. Under current legislation, defaults remain on the credit file for a 5 year period.
“What is not widely known is how difficult credit repair can be – even if the individual has been the victim of identity theft, there is no guarantee the defaults can be removed from their credit file. The onus is on them to prove their case and provide copious amounts of documentary evidence” he says.
The Australian Crime Commission now sites identity theft as the fastest growing crime in the country, costing upwards of $1billion to the Australian economy, and possibly affecting at least 500,000 Australians per year.
“Identity theft and its consequences is a red-hot issue right now because we are all feeling vulnerable to it. Recent worldwide data breaches such as from Sony PlayStation have left many of us feeling insecure about who to trust with our personal information, and what power our governments have to protect us should it occur” Mr Doessel says.
Mr Doessel says the best defence an individual can take against identity theft is to get educated on how their personal information can be put at risk.
“Register for the government’s Scamwatch alert system, which keeps you updated on the latest scams to be wary of. Also check out the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner’s website (formerly Privacy Commissioner’s website) which has a host of information on how to maintain the privacy of your personal information when using the internet and mobile phones.”
“You also have to think like a criminal – ask yourself – what kind of information am I leaving open out there for fraudsters to use? Buy a shredder and cross-shred any personal information at home that you don’t need to keep on file; keep your details secure on social networking sites; and ensure your credit card transactions online are from a secure site and you know who you are transferring money to” he says.
Education also extends to knowing what is on your credit file.
“Often credit file discrepancies can be the first sign we have been victims of identity theft. We recommend every person who is credit active obtain a free credit report to ensure that everything on their file is as it should be. That way if there are any problems, they can be rectified while there is no urgency” he says.
Under current legislation a credit file report can be obtained for free every 12 months from the major credit reporting agencies Veda Advantage, Dun and Bradstreet and Tasmanian Collection Service and is sent to the owner of the credit file within 10 working days.
For those who are vulnerable to identity theft, they can pay extra with Veda Advantage to have their file on an ‘alert’ system, which tracks any changes to their credit file that may occur within a 12 month period.
If people find defaults on their credit file after the credit check, they can contact a credit repairer to have them removed.
“Unfortunately in most cases, attempting to remove the default themselves can do more damage than good by not understanding the process fully, almost like trying to defend themselves in court. They might do OK, but they only get one shot at it and if they don’t get it 100% right, they will be unsuccessful. There is no appeal in most cases” he says.
“Using a credit repairer usually gives people the best chance of getting defaults, writs and Judgments completely removed from their file if they contain errors, are unjust or just shouldn’t be there. Complete removal gives people back their right to obtain credit in the future,” he says.
FROM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BENNETT ARRON & MY CRA CONDUCTED 20/5/2011
ACCC IDENTITY THEFT REPORT: