Consumer fraud: what do I need to know?

/ credit report fraud & identity

With the month of May marking the arrival of National Consumer Fraud week, it's a good opportunity to raise everyone's awareness of the dangers of fraud, and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

Consumer fraud is defined as any fraudulent or intentionally misleading business practice, and it can have a significant impact on those whose information it targets.

Protecting your information

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), consumer fraud where scammers steal your personal information for their own benefit has made identity theft one of the country's most common crimes. Over the course of 2013, scams were estimated to cost Australia in excess of $89 million1,2.

"These days scammers are after more than just financial information," says Scam Watch. "All your personal details including photos, date of birth, home address, Tax File Number and driver's license numbers are valuable to scammers."

One way to avoid falling prey to a consumer fraud scheme is by becoming more aware of who you give your personal and banking information to online. According to Scam Watch, mobile phone and portable devices are veritable "treasure trove of personal information for scammers".

Make sure that you are taking the proper precautions by installing malware​ protection and anti-virus software on all computers, as well as passwords or passcode​s to protect your mobile phone and tablets. This is especially important if you use your mobile devices to log into online services that contain personal information such as social media, emails and online banking.

"Whilst there are times when your personal details are required for legitimate reasons, such as signing up to a new service or buying something, always check that the person or organisation is who they say they are. Stop and think before filling in surveys, entering competitions, clicking on links or attachments, or even 'befriending', 'liking' or 'sharing' something," Scam Watch recommends.

If it doesn't look right, report it

Unlike other types of theft, consumer fraud means that once a scammer has your information, there's no way of taking it back. If your data or personal information has been compromised, you may not even realise it straight away.

One of the primary attractions for scammers will be your banking details, this is why it is important to keep a close eye on your transactions and statements. Anything that looks to be out of the ordinary should be queried with your bank.

You can get your Equifax credit report for free or if you sign up to a My Credit Alert annual subscription, you'll get email updates when certain changes occur on your credit report. If you believe that an addition to your credit history is due to someone applying for credit under your name, don't hesitate to contact us.

The sooner you flag possible consumer fraud, the more likely it will be that you can minimise the damage and emotional stress associated with identity theft.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Therefore, you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your circumstance before acting on it, and where appropriate, seek professional advice from a finance professional such as an adviser.

1Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, 2015 National Consumer Fraud Week – Get smarter with your data. Accessed May 29, 2015. 

2Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Targeting scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2013. Accessed May 29, 2015.

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