Australia’s consumer watchdog says identity theft has dramatically increased during COVID-19.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, with more people working and socialising online, we have unfortunately seen a sharp increase in scammers seeking personal information,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said in a statement on Monday.
Once a scammer has that information, they can access bank accounts or superannuation, take out loans in someone else’s name or impersonate them on social media to try to get money from family and friends.
Scamwatch has received 24,000 reports of stolen personal information this year – an increase of 55 per cent compared with the same time last year.
Australians reported losing more than $22 million to scammers who also stole their personal information and people aged 25 to 34 reported losing personal information more than any other age group.
Scammers are increasingly targeting personal information which has contributed to an increase in financial losses across all scams, up to $91 million so far this year.
“Personal information, such as bank and superannuation details or passwords, are extremely valuable and scammers will try to steal them for their own financial gain. Our increased use of technology has created more opportunities for them to do so,” Ms Rickard said.
“Scammers will also try and steal a range of other documents or the numbers associated with them, including passports, driver licences, credit cards, tax statements, utility bills or Medicare cards, so that they can impersonate you,” Ms Rickard said.
Phishing scams are up by 44 per cent compared with the same time last year.
She warned scammers pretend to be from government departments and businesses, like the ATO, myGov, Telstra or the NBN, to gain bank account details and other information about a person that can be used to impersonate them.
Scam victims who have lost personal information are vulnerable to further scams, fraud or identity theft and it can take years to recover, Ms Rickard said.
“People can end up losing more than money. Not only time in trying to undo the damage done financially but it can also impact greatly on your mental health.”
She warned you should never give personal or financial information to anyone you don’t know or trust via email, text, social media or over the phone.