Protect against telephone identity theft

Most online businesses are stringent in educating customers about how to transact securely, but it seems many companies are letting their customers down in the way they handle plain old telephone interactions. Recently I received a phone call from someone claiming to be from my credit card company, who asked me to provide security information about myself before the call could proceed. I repeat - a stranger called me, asking for information which could be used to access my credit card account. I declined to proceed with the phone call. I've heard from a few different people lately that all sorts of companies who should know better - including banks, credit card companies and ISPs - are using the same methods to contact and "verify" their customers as a scammer would use to try to steal their information. I contacted the ACCC to get their advice, and they helped out with some tips for protecting against telephone identity theft. Follow the link for the details.Brent Rebecca of the ACCC came back with this advice: "Our rules are pretty straight forward. Do not give out your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source. And never give out personal information to someone you don't know or trust."

Telephone traps (from the ACCC's Scamwatch website)

  • If you receive a phone call out of the blue, always ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and who they represent.
  • Do not give out your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.
  • It is best not to respond to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers you don’t recognise.
  • Be careful of phone numbers beginning with 190. These are charged at a premium rate and can be very expensive.
  • Look out for SMS and MMS numbers that start with 19. These are charged at a premium rate (sometimes even for receiving a message) and can be very expensive.

The Scamwatch website also has a list of questions to ask cold callers - particularly if they're selling investment or financial advice. It recommends asking for the name of the company, the address, who the owner of the business is, and what the company's Australian Financial Services (AFS) licence number is.

There's one simple, overall thing to remember - if you didn't make the call, don't supply any personal information. Instead, tell them you'll call back - that way you know that when you answer their security questions, you're giving them to a business you trust, not a scammer!

Hopefully if enough people complain about this poor practise by our financial institutions and ISPs, they will change their method of contacting customers to something more secure.

Have you had your financial institution or other business ask you for your personal details out of the blue? Who was it, and how did you handle it? Share in comments please!

Update: If you read this far, here, have a funny video: How to get rid of telemarketers the Seinfeld way.


    Telstra, apparently, love nothing more than cold-calling a customer and asking for their account password. Each time this has happened to me I've refused, on the not unreasonable basis, that Telstra called me so they must already have my account details.

    The argument usually comes to an impasse when Telstra refuse to continue as 'anyone could answer my mobile' and I refuse to give them my account details because 'anyone could phone me claiming to be from Telstra'.

    I have emailed Telstra to ask them about this policy and was told "whenever you get a call from Telstra, you can ask the consultant for his name and employee number (something like C or D followed by 6 digits. eg., d206506). If such a number is provided, you can be sure that its [sic] a genuine call from Telstra or its suppliers" (my emphasis).

    It shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues surrounding ID theft - today my name is Chris Stokely and my employee number is c681012 (with apologies to the team).

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