Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (19:40): In Australia, someone has their identity stolen every 45 seconds. Online criminals are at work around the clock, trying and succeeding in stealing our identities for nefarious purposes. And a lot of the time, we do not even know about it.
At a mobile office in my electorate of Paterson, Julie came to me last week at her wit's end, wondering what she could do to try to get her life back. Julie now knows her identity was stolen in February. She suspects it was through her driver's licence.
Since that time, Julie has had 18 loan applications made in her name—one for $10,000; it is incredible. Seven of those 18 applications are still not resolved—that is, Julie is still trying to prove that she was not the applicant. Julie's credit rating has plummeted from 900 out of 1,000 to almost 530—almost half what it was.
She cannot get a new licence number, because she is not yet considered a victim of crime. This is despite 18 applications for credit being made in her name in five months, seven of which she is still arguing about. And she cannot get a new licence number. She cannot get a new tax file number, and she has to prove who she is every time she is contacted about a loan and that it was not her who made the application.
She has flagged her name with the Australian tax office as having her identity stolen. She has registered with three separate credit agencies that will send her information when someone accesses her file. But that has not stopped the applications.
Julie has contacted police, but they really have nothing to go on. And she has followed all the government's advice about getting her identity back. Says Julie:
If you had something from the police to say you were a victim of identify fraud then you could show that to credit organisations and sort things out.
But it is not that simple. When she first discovered the theft, Julie took two weeks off work to try to sort it out. Every day she was on the phone from 7.30 in the morning to 5 pm, and she still spends a lot of time on the phone trying to sort this mess out.
The positive in this—and it is only a small one—is she did find out. Many Australians do not find out. They do not know until it is too late, and huge debts are racked up in their name, totally destroying their credit rating and making it nearly impossible to restore their good name.
Julie only found out, because she lives in a small town and knows the postie. A bill from Telstra, which was sent to an address she had 20 years ago, was put in her current postbox by a postal worker who knows her. The overdue Telstra account in question was in Julie's name, but it was not Julie's. She does not have an account with Telstra, and it was nearly impossible to convince Telstra of that. Julie went online to do a credit report and found there were 18 loan applications in her name—loans of $5000 and $10,000 from big banks such as Westpac, the Commonwealth and Citi Bank. They had apparently given loans to someone using her identity without ever sighting her.
The applications were all done online. You do not even have to go into a bank or provide any physical evidence—just a drivers licence number and you can fudge the rest. Julie has been told by those in the know that a driver's licence is now the most powerful form of ID you have and the most likely to be stolen.
Banks have dedicated fraud teams to deal with this, but still they seem to lend without adequate proof of identity. Julie believes organisations such as Telstra and these big banks are not moving quickly enough. They are not keeping up with the cybercriminals and they are not doing enough to restore the credit rating of victims so they can get on with their lives. Even if a court were to issue Julie with a victim's certificate, this does not compel any organisation to take action. It does not remove a fraudulent transaction from their records nor does it restore your credit rating.
Identity theft is now one of the most common crimes in Australia. It is more common than assault, break-ins, robbery and motor vehicle theft. One in 10 victims requires counselling or medical treatment. Almost a third are over 55. About a quarter are too embarrassed to report it. Another quarter do not know where to go. But, even if they do, it is far from smooth sailing to recover their credit rating. It is a long hard battle. We have to make it harder for thieves to apply for credit in other people's names, and we have to make it easier for victims to get their lives back.