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Protecting your credit identity is critical to maintaining your credit health

Recent high profile data breaches highlight the ever-present risk that our personal or financial data could be stolen and misused. 

CreditSmart has put together 4 critical steps to help protect your credit identity:

  1. Change identifying information
  2. Put in place a short-term credit ban with each of the credit reporting bodies (CRBs)
  3. Implement longer term credit alerts with each of the CRBs
  4. Regularly check your credit report – make it part and parcel of maintaining your credit health, much like regular checks with your GP.

It is important that people contact all three credit reporting bodies and consider using the services provided by each of the credit reporting bodies. Different credit providers may use different credit reporting bodies when assessing an application for credit, so setting up the right protection with each body helps reduce the risk that a fraudster could take out credit in your name.

1. Change identifying information  

If your driver’s licence- or card number, passport number and/or Medicare number has been compromised, a first step is to change these numbers with the relevant authorities. This can help identify where new accounts are being set up in a person’s name by a fraudster – if these identity documents have been changed and differ to information supplied by the fraudster, this should mean that identity verification fails. So it is an important first step but not the only thing you need to do.

2. Short term bans

If a fraudster applies to a lender for a loan in your name, the lender will usually ask a credit reporting body for a copy of your credit report. You can request a ban be put on your credit report which means the lender will not be able to access it (and therefore will not be able to assess the loan). This should stop the fraudster loan application from proceeding.

You can apply for a ban from any of the three different credit reporting bodies. When requesting a ban with one credit reporting body, you can also ask the credit reporting body to arrange a ban with the other two credit reporting bodies.

If you are legitimately applying for credit while there is a ban on your credit report, you should remove the ban before applying for new credit or talk to the credit provider before submitting the application. They will let you know what to do, which may include waiting until the ban period ends before applying or requesting the credit reporting body to lift the ban to allow the application to be assessed and, if necessary, reapplying a ban after it has been assessed.

To have a ban lifted from your credit file, you will need to provide sufficient evidence of your identity as confirmed by each of the credit reporting bodies in their initial correspondence when you requested a ban.

 To arrange a ban, go to any one of the following:

  • Equifax: Go to Placing a ban with Equifax and fill in and submit the form. Once submitted, Equifax will email you to let you know the ban is in place.
  • illion: Go to Placing a ban with illion and fill in and submit the form. Once submitted, illion will email you to let you know the ban is in place.‍
  • Experian: Go to Placing a ban with Experian and fill in and submit the form. Once submitted, Experian will email you to let you know the ban is in place.

The ban will initially apply for 21 days (and will then expire if you do not do anything).

If you think that you are still at risk of becoming a victim of fraud after the 21 days, you can ask for an extension of the ban period by contacting any one of the credit reporting bodies before the initial ban ends. You may be asked to provide evidence supporting why you think you are still at risk.

Before deciding whether to ask for an extension of the ban, keep up to date with any advice that Optus or a government body gives you (like the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission via Scamwatch) about the risk of a fraudster using your data. This advice is likely to develop over the coming days and weeks.

3. Longer term credit alerts

Monitor your credit report by subscribing to an alert service from each of the three credit reporting bodies. This ensures that you are alerted of any suspicious activity, for example if your credit report has been accessed by someone else applying for credit in your name.

All CRBs offer credit alerts, either direct from the CRB (such as Equifax), or through providers such as Credit Simple (illion) or Credit Savvy (Experian).

Alerts provide a service that tells a consumer whenever their file has been accessed – and  if the access looks suspicious, it means the consumer can follow up and let the credit provider know that it is fraudulent.

Unlike putting a ban on your credit report, setting up the alert will not get in the way of you making legitimate applications for credit.

Below a breakdown of the services available from each of the three credit reporting bodies:

  • Equifax Protect is a credit monitoring and identity protection service that can help reduce the risk of identity theft. This is a paid service offered for free by Optus to those people most at-risk because of the data breach. After the 12-month free subscription period, customers who have taken up the Equifax Protect service will be given the option to continue their service and transition to a paid subscription. Unless the customer chooses to continue their service at the end of the 12-month period, their Equifax Protect subscription will cease.
  • Visit creditsimple.com.au (which is based on your illion credit report) to sign up to receive free, regular updates on your credit score and, as part of doing this, give you the option of getting an alert when a new application for credit is made
  • Visit creditsavvy.com.au (which is based on your Experian credit report) to sign up to receive free, regular updates on your credit score and, as part of doing this, give you the option of getting an alert when a new application for credit is made

(Note: credit score providers are commercial businesses that will ask for your permission to use your data to offer you goods or services. If you do not want them to use your information for that purpose, you will be given the opportunity to opt-out.

 4. Regular credit checks

Get a copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting bodies to help you identify any suspicious activity on your credit report (which could be an indication that a criminal has fraudulently applied for credit using your information). You can get a free copy of your credit report every three months from each of the credit reporting bodies by following these instructions.

Taking control of your credit report has never been more important

Consumers should also look to be vigilant on an ongoing basis – details like those potentially accessed in this incident can be accessed and lay dormant for months and even years. This isn’t something which will go away in the next month or so.

Again – this is part of the reason why credit bans may not work as a long-term solution – because consumers should be able to have regular access to the credit reporting system, without having to put on/ remove bans constantly.

For more information and support if you are impacted by the Optus data breach, click here.

Digital Agency: SGY

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