Editorial: Purloining of identity a scary reality

By Andrew Austin

People with fairly common names often run the risk of being mistaken for someone with the same moniker. Even a name like mine, which is not that common, is shared with many others. I know of at least five Andrew Austins and have had some amusing interactions with people wanting to speak to them.

While it often produces funny moments, there have also been stories in the past of people getting lumped with unpaid bills or even arrested because they had the same name as the intended person.

Not a very pleasant situation to be in.

How much worse would it be if your identity was willfully and criminally stolen or even if someone attempted to do so?

Our front page story yesterday of a Hawke's Bay woman who found herself in this situation made for chilling reading.

The woman, who asked us not to reveal her identity, only found out that someone was trying to steal her identity when her bank phoned to ask why she was so desperate to change her phone banking passwords. She was puzzled by this because she did not even use phone banking, but Westpac said a person claiming to be her had rung them seven times in a week getting increasingly "persistent and aggressive" each time.

After meeting bank officials, a lock was put on all her accounts. But, to make matters worse, she received a letter from the Inland Revenue Department informing her that they had received her request for her IRD number to be sent to her "new address". One small problem - she had not asked them to change her address. A comparison of recorded phone calls (you know the "for training purposes" ones ) revealed two different voices. IRD advised the woman to report it to the police and they are investigating.

What an awful experience for anyone to go through. Okay, she did not have any money stolen from her, but who knows what could have happened. She could find herself in a whole heap of debt through no fault of her own.

It is a sobering thought for all. There are probably many people who make things quite simple for fraudsters and the like to purloin their details. We have all heard the stories of stupid pin codes and the like, but it is quite scary to think that this is obviously going on all the time.

We have all had our fun with the hapless "microsoft consultants" who phone to "check your computer because it has a virus", but the theft of your entire identity for nefarious purposes is something completely different. There are so many ways in which someone can attempt to become you for criminal purposes that it pays to be vigilant. Look for anything in your accounts and life that does not quite add up.

Is it any wonder that we have all become less trusting? When it comes to your own hard-earned money and your personal security, it seems to be the only way to be.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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