What is Identity Theft?

identify theftIdentity theft is when personal details are stolen from an individual or business and identity fraud is when those personal details are used to commit fraud.

Quite often stolen identity documents are used by the offender for opening and operating fictitious bank accounts in your name or accessing your bank accounts.

The sort of documents offenders steal are credit cards, driver’s licences, utility bills, bank and credit card statements, and any other documents containing personal information.

How it happens

Identity theft can occur in various ways. It can range from someone using your credit illegally, to having your entire identity assumed by another person and then transactions conducted in your name without your knowledge or consent.

Important personal information can be accessed by a determined thief. Some examples of how criminals can gain access to your personal documentation is as follows.

  • Your wallet or purse is stolen with all your identifying cards.
  • Your home or office is burgled and personal documents stolen.
  • Important documents, such as bank statements, credit cards, utility bills and taxation return, are stolen from your letterbox.
  • Mail is diverted to another address without your knowledge.
  • Recycle or general rubbish bins being searched.
  • Inappropriate handling of your personal information by businesses.
  • Incorrect disposal of documentation that details your personal information.
  • Inappropriate office staff are privileged to personal and business information that is confidential.

What does a criminal do with my personal information?

Once a criminal has committed identity theft they are capable to;

  • Apply for a credit card in your name.
  • Open a bank or building society account in your name.
  • Apply for other financial services in your name.
  • Run up debts (e.g. Use your credit/debit card details to make purchase) or obtain a loan in your name.
  • Apply for any benefits in your name such as housing benefit, new tax credits, income support, job seeker’s allowance, childcare benefit.
  • Apply for a driver’s licence in your name.
  • Register a vehicle in your name.
  • Apply for job/employment in your name.
  • Apply for a passport in your name.
  • Apply for a mobile phone contract in your name.

How to protect yourself?

It is much easier for a criminal to gain personal information by stealing documentation than hacking into your computer. You can take an active role in reducing the risk of your identity being used without your knowledge by taking the following steps to secure your personal documentation.

  • Destroy or shred identifying information when you are throwing out personal papers. That also includes ‘pre-approved credit card applications’.
  • Secure your mail box with a lock and make sure mail is cleared regularly.
  • Keep documents in a secure place if you wish to retain them.
  • Secure your personal information at home.
  • Collect new cheque books or credit cards in person from the bank.
  • Write cheques and fill out forms carefully so that they cannot be altered easily.
  • Keep a list of all your accounts and credit cards in a secure place.

ABS Identity Fraud Statistics

4528.0 – Personal Fraud, 2014-15  

absLatest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 20/04/2016



In the 12 months prior to survey in 2014-15, an estimated 126,300 Australians experienced identity theft, or 0.7% of the population aged 15 years and over. The majority experienced a single incident only (103,400 or 82% of all identity theft victims).

Due to changes in the survey questionnaire wording regarding experience of identity theft, data from 2014-15 are not comparable with those from 2010-11.


  • In the 12 months prior to survey, persons aged 25 to 34 were most likely to experience identity theft (1.0% or 33,700 persons in that age group) whilst persons aged 55 years and over were the least likely (0.4% or 25,900 persons in that age group).
  • Unmarried persons were more likely than married persons to experience identity theft (0.9% or 65,200 persons compared to 0.5% or 57,600 persons aged 15 and over).
  • Persons with a degree, diploma, or higher qualification were more likely than persons with no non-school qualification to experience identity theft (0.8% or 48,900 persons compared to 0.5% or 42,200 persons aged 15 and over).


How was identity information stolen in the most recent incident?

Of the persons who experienced identity theft in the five years prior to survey in 2014-15, over one-quarter (27% or 90,100) had their personal details stolen over the internet (including 5% via social media, 8% via email and 14% in another way via the internet), whilst one in ten (10% or 34,700) had their personal details obtained in person. A quarter of victims (26% or 87,300) were not aware of how their personal details were stolen.

How was stolen identity information used in the most recent incident?

Around one in twelve persons who experienced identity theft in the five years prior to the survey (18% or 61,400) had their personal information used to apply for a loan or gain credit.

How did people find out about their most recent incident of identity theft?

Just under one in four persons who experienced identity theft in the five years prior to the survey (23% or 77,600) became aware that their personal details had been stolen after receiving a notification or query from a government agency or authority, whilst a further 12% (38,700) became aware after receiving a bill from a business or company.