Ngā take Pūtea
Guarding your identity

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July 2, 2012

Waimarama didn’t think twice when she received a new store card in the mail from her favourite department store. She’d often shopped there and the letter didn’t ring alarm bells.

It wasn’t until a bill for $900 arrived that she realised something was wrong. It turned out an identity thief had opened a store card in Waimarama’s name and bought $900 worth of clothing that same day. The bill for this shopping spree was sent to Waimarama.

The finance company behind the store card refused to believe that Waimarama hadn’t bought the clothes herself. “Your signature is on the receipt,” a staff member said. The trouble was the signature on the credit application and the receipt was that of the thief’s.

Waimarama was one of 130,000 Kiwis who fall victim to identity theft every year, and Māori are statistically more likely to be victims than Pākehā. What’s more, Māori add or change names more often than Pākehā, which can make them vulnerable. A fraudster may claim that you’d changed your name because of tikanga and get away with insufficient identification.

Identity thieves can steal your identity for non-financial reasons. They may need a driver’s licence to drive, or buy alcohol. However, often they pose as you to plunder bank accounts with ATM cards, borrow money, or buy goods.

Some identity thieves send phishing emails to hack into your computer, load a key logger to record your key strokes, steal your bank account logins, and transfer money out of your account.

There have also been cases of identity thieves taking over Trade Me accounts and collecting payments for fictitious goods that are never shipped.

Identity theft happens in Aotearoa more often than you’d think. The criminals aren’t always hackers or international criminal gangs. The perpetrators are more likely to be whānau, flatmates, or others living in the same home, according to the Ministry of Justice.

If you are a victim of identity theft, you may want to get in contact with the Veda Advantage, credit rating agency, which holds credit records for most New Zealanders. Veda Advantage can suppress your credit report as a precautionary measure. It also holds “alias” files if someone tries to use another name, but your date of birth, driver’s licence or other data will be matched in your file.

You will also need to clear your name. If you don’t, the black mark on your credit record could stop you borrowing money, buying a home, or even getting a job, because employers often credit check potential employees.

You will need to report the crime to police and write to your bank or other companies concerned with all of the evidence. If that fails, or no-one will listen, seek help from agencies such as your local Citizens Advice Bureau, Community Law Centre, the Banking Ombudsman, and the Insurance & Savings Ombudsman.

Some people also go to the media. Fair Go, Target, Consumer and other media will sometimes champion a case if they believe you’ve been unfairly treated. It’s also possible to take a claim to the Disputes Tribunal, although it’s usually best to exhaust other avenues first.

To protect yourself from identity theft:

• Shred all unneeded bank and other documents that contain personal information such as your address, account numbers, and IRD number.

• Beware of who has access to your birth certificate, passport, driver’s licence, credit cards and other documents that can be used as identification. Even photocopies of these documents can be used to commit identity theft.

• Don’t share details on social networking sites of your full name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and other personal information.

• Avoid giving personal information to cold callers doing “surveys”.

• Always log off from your bank account and lock or shut down your computer when leaving your desk.

• Don’t open spam emails or click on links in them which appear to lead to your bank account. They could lead you to a fake website that steals your login details.

• Check your Veda Advantage credit record once a year. It’s free to do, and will show up any suspicious credit checks.

• Log into your bank accounts daily to identify any suspicious activity.

• Never reveal your passwords and PINs to anyone, even as a one-off to buy something for you when you’re ill.

USEFUL LINKS

Identity Theft Checklist – DIA

Scamwatch

Veda Advantage – report stolen ID

Netsafe

New Zealand Police

Trade Me phishing information

Diana Clement is a freelance journalist who writes in the personal finance and property investing. She has worked in the UK and New Zealand, writing for the top personal finance publications for over 20 years. In 2007 and 2006 she was the overall winner of the New Zealand Property Media Awards.

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