Identity Theft Not Always By Strangers

MysteryFamily Identity theft and the loss of personal data often come across as peculiarly impersonal crimes committed by shadowy gangs from countries you never heard of in geography class. But while protecting against those threats with regular updates and solid anti-virus tools is important, you also need to think about how personal information can be abused by people you actually know.

Picture by Rick Kennedy

That point was underlined this week when the ATO successfully prosecuted a Perth man who had used the identities of family members as part of an elaborate tax scam.

Brett William Bransby scored almost half a million dollars from GST fraud before being detected, and was sentenced to jail this week in Perth. Bransby set up a network of ten false businesses using details from family, friends and a handful of famous people.

There's not much you can do to protect against a malicious family member bent on criminality, other than the always-sensible steps of checking bank account and credit card statements. Being alert to real-world and cyber-intrusions is your best potential defence.

Other steps can also help protect personal data from other members of your household, including guarding your post box and using a Linux live CD for online banking.

Even non-malicious sharing of information can have dangerous consequences. As People Security expert Hugh Thompson pointed out earlier this week, the risk of "information equivalency" — data which itself seems innocuous, but which can be used to access or deduce other more valuable data — is becoming increasingly clear.

Social networking sites represent a particular risk in this area. While people are now aware that putting a full address or birthdate on a site is risky, even professional networking sites like LinkedIn can pose risks.

Thompson advocates a basic "self-check hygiene test", where you search for your own name and see how much information appears. Pay particular attention to online resumes: these often contain details you might prefer to keep private. If you find them, log into the relevant site and remove them.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


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