Friday, December 2

As a victim of identity theft, I know just how quickly it can happen – and how hard it is to fix | Martha Bedggood

It was a weekend in February 2018 when my husband’s phone suddenly went dead.

At first we didn’t think much of it – most likely a network error. But what we dismissed as bad reception turned out to be the first sign of identity theft that would plague us for years to come.

Through various phone calls, we established that someone had stolen my husband’s phone number. We didn’t even know this was possible. What we slowly learned was that someone had set up a new account using his phone number and minimal ID from him, thereby permanently locking him out of his account from him.

The next thing to go was his email. Using two-factor authentication, the perpetrator was able to gain access to his account. Things quickly escalated from bad to worse.

As millions of Optus customers come to terms with stolen data, it’s important for Australians to know just how much of an impact this can have. As a victim of identity theft, I know first-hand just how quickly it can happen and how hard it is to fix.

With the perpetrator now able to access and download all my husband’s emails, they were able to uncover copies of our driver’s licenses that we had sent to each other as part of an application process. We suddenly felt like we were in a race against time to try to retain as much personal information as possible. But we quickly found that there was very little we could do. Any account that required two-factor authentication went straight to the perpetrator. By trying to access data, we were relinquishing more to the person stealing it.

A feeling of helplessness poured over us, as they locked us out of almost every account we held. It was the beginning of a nightmare that still hangs over us to this day.

We quickly reported the ID theft to the police, and accessed advice from IDCare. They suggested we put a six-month credit ban on our accounts – something we had to apply for ourselves.

But once the credit ban expired, we received letters from banks about applications for loans that we were at the “final stages”. Every bank loan application that had been applied for by the perpetrator required phone calls and face-to-face visits at the relevant bank to explain to them it was not us making the loan. The banks were able to shut the applications down, but the failed loan attempts remain forever on our credit history.

Tired of the letters, I decided to change my driver’s license. This required another trip to the police, as well as a trip to court, where I was required to stand up and swear under oath that I was who I said I was. Not to mention various trips to Services NSW to change my licence.

But it didn’t end there. In January this year, a debt collection company began chasing my husband for $3,000 of phone debt that the perpetrator had racked up. It suddenly felt scary. There was no element of control.

Once again, we were forced to put a ban on one of our credit cards.

While the perpetrator never managed to steal money from us, there were a lot of tears, a lot of time wasted and a lot of anxiety. And even after the perpetrator was caught, the ID theft still has an impact.

Now, as we try to get pre-approval for a home loan, it is affecting us again. The banks are forced to evaluate our credit history, including the failed loan applications that we never made. It’s impossible to change your credit history – something we have also found out.

There needs to be more protection for customers who are put in this position. Companies need to be accountable to customers and protect the data they have been entrusted with. Someone can steal your identity at the click of a finger, and it is almost impossible for you to get it back.

It has happened to me, and now millions of Optus customers. It can happen to anyone.

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