Keep your personal financial details private

Almost one in ten people experience misuse of their personal information each year.

Truly, I despair. Despite all the publicity about internet scams, I nearly fell over when I read this week that “123456” is still the most popular password. Why not just put your money in a brown paper bag at the front door with “take me” written on it?

We are increasingly managing our money online, using personal data to complete digital transactions. This data has real market value for cyber crooks, and with Privacy Awareness Week running from 15-19 May, now’s the time to consider how well you’re protecting your personal information from thieves. 

Identity theft is one of the most commonly occurring crimes in Australia. Almost one in ten of us experience misuse of our personal information each year, and 5% of people annually lose money as a result of identity crime. 

A report by the Attorney General’s office found Australian identities sell for surprisingly little on illegal online marketplaces. A bank login and password is worth around $500. The asking price for credit card details is about $1,000. These low prices reflect the ready availability of this type of highly personal information among cyber crooks.

Armed with personal data, crims can access your bank account, take out loans in your name or commit welfare or tax fraud. Falling prey to the bad guys can cost you dearly. Victims of identity theft are left out of pocket by an average of $3,696 though in some cases losses have exceeded $500,000. 

Cyber crooks typically get hold of personal details by hacking our computers or via email, social media or scams. So an important first step is to have the latest security software installed on all your digital devices including computers, tablets and phones. Make a point of downloading software updates for protection against the latest online threats.

When you’re setting passwords for devices or online accounts make them strong. Use a mix of numbers, letters (lowercase and uppercase) and special characters like # or $. A US survey found a handful of commonly used passwords make up 17% of all passwords. Using woefully simple passwords just makes it easier for crooks to steal your personal details.

Set unique passwords for all your online accounts. Yes, it’s a hassle remembering different passwords, but it’s a lot easier than fixing up the mess after cyber criminals have enjoyed an online shopping spree using your credit card. And when you’re online, reject offers by websites to remember your password. Login afresh each time you visit a site and logout when you’re done.

It also helps to make a habit of regularly checking out the Scamwatch website. It’s an easy way to know what to be on the lookout for when you’re online. If you think you have become a victim of identity theft contact your financial institution immediately. 


Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, Chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money Magazine

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© AMP Life Limited. This provides general information and hasn’t taken your circumstances into account. It’s important to consider your particular circumstances before deciding what’s right for you. Although the information is from sources considered reliable, AMP does not guarantee that it is accurate or complete. You should not rely upon it and should seek qualified advice before making any investment decision. Except where liability under any statute cannot be excluded, AMP does not accept any liability (whether under contract, tort or otherwise) for any resulting loss or damage of the reader or any other person.