For many Aussies, identity theft was always something that happened to other people. People on TV, usually. But the recent spate of data breaches at Optus, Medibank and Energy Australia has made many of us pay far more attention than ever to one of the fastest growing crimes in our country.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, 1 in 4 Aussies will be the victim of identity theft over the course of their lives with an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion. And with the financial fallout from the recent data breaches only just starting to be counted, these statistics will no doubt increase dramatically next year.
What Actually Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when a cybercriminal gains access to your personal information to steal money or gain other benefits. Armed with your personal info, they can apply for real identity documents in your name but with another person’s photograph. This enables them to then apply for loans or benefits in your name, sign up for memberships or even apply for credit cards.
And it goes without saying that the financial and emotional fallout from identity theft can be huge. Since the Optus and Medibank hacking stories broke just a few months ago, there has been multiple stories of Aussie families who have had their identities stolen and who are in a world of pain. This Melbourne family who have had over $40,000 stolen from ATM withdrawals alone is just one example.
What Do You Mean By Personal Information?
Your personal information is any piece of information or data that can confirm who you are or how to find you. It may be a single piece of information, or several pieces used together. It’s often referred to as personally identifiable information (PII). So, it includes your name, parents’ name, address, date of birth, phone numbers, email address, usernames/passwords or passphrases, bank account details, school or university attended, location check-ins even RSVPS for events.
Every time you register with a new shopping site or social media platform, you will be asked to share some personally identifiable information. However, what you share may be stolen or even misused – just think about the recent list of Australian companies who had their customers’ private information stolen by hackers. So that’s why you need to ensure you are only sharing your information with trusted online sites and take every possible step to protect your personal information online.
How To Protect Your Online Identity
While there are no guarantees in life, there are steps you can take to ensure your online identity is as safe as possible. Here are my top 5 tips:
1. Use Multi-Factor Authentication When It’s Offered – Always!
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) or 2 Factor Authentication (2FA) is a no-brainer because it makes a hacker’s life a lot harder. In short, it requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access to an account or app. This might be a text, email or even a code generated by an authentication app. So, even if a hacker has your password and username, they still need that final piece of information before they can get their hands on your account!
2. Use A Different (and Complex) Password On Every Account
Now this may take a bit of work to set up but using a unique and complex password on every account is one of the best things you can do to protect your online identity. And here’s the rationale – if you use the same password on all your accounts and your login details are stolen then hackers have access to all the accounts that are accessed with that password. Yikes!!! So, a unique password for each account is a great measure. I love using a password manager to make this process a little easier. Not only do they generate complex passwords, but they remember them too! All you need to do is remember your Master Password which needs to be extremely complex!!!
3. Keep Your Devices and Software Updated & Backed-Up
Updates are most commonly about addressing security weaknesses. And yes, I know they can be a pain but if you ignore them, you are essentially making it easier for hackers to find their way into your life via weak spots. And don’t forget to ensure your security software remains updated too!
I always recommend keeping a backup of all your important info in case something goes wrong. This should include all your photos, key documents and all your personally identifiable information. A hard drive works well but saving to the cloud is also a good option. I once dropped a hard drive and lost treasured family photos, so the cloud is my personal preference.
4. Stay Ahead of The Threats – Invest in a Security & Identity Protection Solution
We all know knowledge is power so investing in top notch security and identity monitoring software will help keep you ahead of threats. McAfee+, McAfee’s new all in one privacy, identity and device protection solution is a fantastic way for Aussies to protect themselves online. It features identity monitoring and a password manager but also an unlimited VPN, a file shredder, protection score and parental controls. And the Rolls Royce version called McAfee+ Advanced, also offers subscribers additional identity protections including access to licensed restoration experts who can help you repair your identity and credit, in case you’re affected by a data breach. It also gives subscribers access to lost wallet protection which help you cancel and replace your ID, credit cards if they are lost or stolen.
5. Only Use Secure Wi-Fi or a VPN
Public, unsecured Wi-Fi can make life so much easier when you’re out and about but it’s also a tried and tested way for scammers to access your personal information. Unsecured Wi-Fi is free Wi-Fi that is available in public places such as libraries, cafes, or shopping centres. So, instead of using Wi-Fi, just use the data in your phone plan. Or alternatively invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that cleverly encrypts everything you share on your device.
About 2 months ago, I embarked on a project to clean up my online life. I’m working through the list of sites I have accounts with and am closing those I no longer use, I’m also doing a huge password audit to ensure they are all unique to each site and are super complex, thanks to my password manager. Now, I’m not quite done yet, but things are in better shape than they were. Why not consider doing the same? With the holiday season fast approaching, why not dedicate a little of your poolside time to practicing a little cyber hygiene.
Till next time, keep those identities safe!