It all began with an email from a stranger

It all began with an email from a stranger:

“I was walking in a park … and I found your wife’s credit card.”

Interesting!

However, my wife doesn’t have a credit card … 

… or does she?

“Of course I don’t!” she grumbled, and then added: “And you’re going to write about this … aren’t you?”

“Of course I will!” I laughed.

(Nothing bad ever happens to me, it’s all just fodder for this column.)

Still, something smelled a bit off.

For one, the stranger found the credit card in the suburb my wife grew up in.

And for two, the coronavirus may have created mass unemployment but scammers have never been busier:

There’s the boost to JobSeeker, multiple coronavirus cash supplements and juicy JobKeeper payments to scam.

And the icing on the cake?

Super funds are doling out $20,000, and most people don’t even know how many super accounts they have!

Seriously, corona is like Christmas for crooks!

And it’s not just me saying it. IDCARE is a not-for-profit organisation that helps victims of identity fraud. Its founder and Managing Director, Professor David Lacey, told me that their caseload has jumped by a third since lockdown started.

Here’s why you don’t want to get scammed: Professor Lacey told me that the job of clearing your name after identity fraud takes the average person 27.5 hours of listening to ‘hold music’ at various banks.

I Never Thought It Would Happen to Me

After all, Liz and I are very security conscious:

I treat any papers with my private details on them like financial germs that could infect me.

Instead, Liz and I have a shared secure email that all our bills go to.

(And when we went full digital I scanned all the old mail I had lying around — and destroyed it. On the farm we have a 44-gallon drum as an incinerator … but if you’re in a more urban setting a $40 shredder from Officeworks is fine, though not nearly as fulfilling.)

What’s more, we’ve put ‘bans’ on our credit report.

What’s a credit report?

It contains your personal information and credit history — good, bad, and otherwise.

Banks use this as a check to determine whether they’ll lend you money.

(Your credit report is maintained by credit reporting agencies — there are three in Australia and the biggest is global conglomerate Equifax.) 

Know this: if your identity is stolen, your credit report is where it will show up first.

Also know this: if you Google “ban my Equifax credit report”, you can request to have a ban put on your credit report. And legally they also have to tell the other two credit reporting agencies to follow suit on your behalf.

That way no one can access your credit report, meaning scammers can’t run up credit in your name.

The only sticking point, if you do choose to ban your credit report, is that you have to write to Equifax (a) whenever you apply for a loan (to lift the ban, so the lender can check your history), and (b) every 12 months, since bans only last for a year.

I’ll tell you this: I’m putting the ban on mine.

Now you may be wondering what happened with that credit card the kind stranger found.

Well, she sent it to us — via our secure post office box.

After speaking to the head of fraud at the bank that issued the card, we worked out it was a case of mistaken identity.

Very lucky for us. Very unlucky for the other Liz.

Tread Your Own Path!