Think your private information is safe online? Think again. As Australian politicians Adam Bandt, Bob Brown, and Scott Ludlam recently found out, cybercriminals are lurking at every corner, keen to use our personal data for their own benefits.
Part of practising good internet security is understanding the types of threats that are out there. So read on to discover how anyone can be a victim of identity theft — including you.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is quickly emerging as one of the most common (and devastating) crimes of the 21st century. We often underestimate the lengths criminals will go to to get their hands on our personal information, as well as the significant impact that their actions can have on our lives.
Identity theft occurs when a criminal gains access to your personal information. In 2021, such a crime tends to take place in the digital world; however, the physical theft of mail, bills, and even your wallet also falls under the definition of identity theft.
The type of personal information that criminals tend to target includes:
- Date of birth
- Driver’s license number
- Mother’s maiden name
- Place of birth
- Credit and debit card details
- Tax file number
- Passport information
- Online account login credentials
Once a criminal has this information, they will either use it for their own personal benefit or sell it on the dark web.
Identity theft can have very significant consequences. Oftentimes, people don’t even realise that their personal information has been stolen until long after the fact occurs. For example, if a criminal has enough of your details, they can apply for a large loan in your name. Until you go to check your credit rating — which can be years later — you will have no idea that your personal information has been misappropriated. Fortunately, online security tools such as dark web monitoring can be used to warn you if your information is found on the dark web.
Australian politicians targeted in identity theft scam
The unfortunate reality is that anyone can be a victim of identity theft. In fact, it’s far easier for criminals to steal the information of ordinary, everyday people (like you and me) than it is celebrities and those who are well known in the community.
Recently, it was uncovered that several well known Australian politicians had their images stolen and misused by an organisation calling themselves the ‘Comité International Pour La Protection Des Droits de l’Homme’ — The International Committee for the Protection of Human Rights (CIPDH). While their cause may sound noble, further investigation revealed that the committee has been investigated for a number of suspicious activities, including possibly smuggling billions of dollars on behalf of former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.
Greens party leaders Adam Bandt, Bob Brown, and Scott Ludlam all had their photographs stolen and uploaded to the official website of the CIPDH, with the organisation claiming that they were their Polish representative and two vice-presidents.
While this incident may seem harmless, it points to a much larger problem with the digital world. Given the amount of data that is processed online everyday, it’s nearly impossible for individuals to keep track of how their personal information is being used. Internet security for individuals and organisations has never been more important than it is right now.
Top tips to protect yourself online
In the case of Bandt, Brown, and Ludlam, it’s hard to suggest that there is anything they could have done to prevent their photos from ending up on the CIPDH website. As public figures, a simple Google search will bring up thousands of official-looking images of the three. However, that doesn’t mean that there are not steps that we as individuals cannot take to protect our private information online.
- Use a VPN: A VPN is a type of private internet connection that encrypts your location and data. Using a VPN means that your whereabouts, online activities, and information are protected from prying eyes. However, avoid using free VPNs — the lack of price tag may seem attractive but these services likely track your activities and sell them onto third parties.
- Think carefully about how you use social media: Social media accounts can be a goldmine for online thieves, particularly if we don’t make good use of the available security settings. Never post information that reveals your location, date of birth, or any other type of personally identifiable data and make sure your only online friends are those you know in the real world.
- Use strong passwords: A password is often all that is standing between your information and the prying eyes of online criminals. By using a strong password — one made up of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters — you can be confident that online criminals will have a hard time cracking your personal data. Never use the same password for more than one account and if possible, make use of 2 factor-authentication on each of your online accounts.
- Sign up to dark web monitoring: Once information is on the dark web, it’s very hard to have it removed. Therefore, signing up to a dark web monitoring service is an essential security measure. At the very least, you need to know if your information is on the dark web so that you can take appropriate steps to protect yourself.
The online world comes with both risks and rewards. While being connected means that we can instantly shop, stream, and chat online, it also exposes us to the sneaky and dangerous actions of online criminals. By taking appropriate steps to protect yourself online, you can enjoy the digital world with full confidence that your information, and that of your family, is secure.