Identity Theft - is Enough Being Done to Protect You?

By: Tristan Dunston

Australia is losing a billion dollars every year to identity theft, according to the Australian government, and nearly 90 per cent of Aussies are said to be concerned about having their identity stolen.

With identity theft reputed to be the fastest growing crime globally, what is being done to protect Australians from the growing menace posed by identity fraudsters?

The National Identity Security Strategy (NISS) was introduced by the Australian Government in 2005. This national identity strategy aims to tackle identity crime committed with the use of fake identity documents, such as passports and drivers' licenses. Beefing up the ability of Australian authorities to spot fake identity documents lies at the heart of the strategy. Fake identity documents are used by fraudsters to steal benefits, such as Centrelink payments, and money from the banks.

$28 million dollars has been pledged to the roll out of the National Document Verification Service, a key plank of the NISS. The service will be an online system for checking the authenticity of identity documents, and will be accessible by government agencies. It could also be rolled out to the private sector, which would help banks and other companies verify the identities of consumers. The service will enable government officials to ensure documents presented were actually issued and the details contained within them are accurate.

Biometrics, a method of using the physical attributes of individuals to verify their identity, is increasingly being deployed by governments and private companies to combat identity theft.

Australia's immigration service, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, is collecting biometric data on new migrants. It is expected the collection of biometric details on 'non citizens' - such as photos, fingerprints, and, iris scans - will help national and international efforts to tackle identity fraud. The physical details of new entrants are being stored on the DIAC database, known as the Identity Services Repository.

Plans for a welfare services identity card system costing more than $1billion dollars were scrapped at the end of 2007 following the election of the Rudd Government. The Howard Government planned to give every Australian a biometric smartcard, including photo and individual health and welfare number. This was considered by many to be an identity card scheme in disguise. Reports suggested the smartcard scheme could have been 'piggybacked' by private companies, such as banks and financial institutions, as a means of tackling identity fraud.

The use of voice authentication technology to tackle call centre identity fraud is being researched by boffins at the University Of Canberra. The university's biometrics scientists are working on systems which could enable companies to verify people using their voice patterns. This may avoid the need to send sensitive personal information abroad, reducing the risk of Aussies falling prey to identity fraudsters targeting call centres.

Tough new money laundering laws, which came into force at the end of 2007, will see tighter identity checks on Australians when opening up new bank accounts, using casinos or purchasing travellers cheques. It is expected the Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Finance Act will help to combat identity fraud in Australia. Financial organisations have to meet the strict identity check requirements of the legislation by the end of 2008. This act brings Australia into line with other countries, such as the UK and US, which have strengthened their money laundering rules.

The publication of court judgments on the internet has led the NSW Supreme Court to change the way it writes judgments. Personal identifiers, such as birthdates and addresses, which can be used to commit identity fraud will no longer be published in judgments.

Among the advice in the government's identity theft self help guide "ID theft kit" is the need for consumers to regularly check their credit report to help spot any fraudulent activity committed against them. A free credit report can be accessed every year by writing to the credit reference agencies.

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