Identity theft - What is identity theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information to pretend to be you. This could be done to commit identity crimes such as taking out loans or accumulating speeding tickets, avoiding arrest or court orders by appearing to be a different person. It could also involve maliciously impersonating you, perhaps to make it appear that you believe or think something controversial.

Identity theft can damage your personal and financial reputation. This can have serious impact on your life, if you can no longer prove who you are and what is yours.

When we talk about personal information that can used for identity theft,  we mean all the information you have given to organisations and government agencies, as well as the information you create about yourself (e.g. information shared on social networking websites). Often, we take our information for granted but it’s what enables us to do many day-to-day activities.

While the information used for identity theft often includes your name, date of birth and address, it can also be account numbers, unique identifiers (such as your IR number or Driver Licence) and any other information that can be used to pretend to be you.

Identity crime

Identity crime refers to offences in which a criminal uses false or stolen identifying information in order to facilitate another crime.

It’s difficult to get precise statistics on identity theft and crime but it’s estimated that thousands of  New Zealanders are victims of identity theft annually and the resulting identity crimes may cost the New Zealand economy in excess of $200 million every year. Identity theft as a crime is difficult to prosecute people for (it may have been committed overseas or online) and it can also take a long time to resolve.

Identity crime is a global problem and New Zealanders tend to be trusting people, which could make this country appear to be a soft target. Therefore, vigilance and awareness are vital. While the methods of identity theft change frequently as the criminals adapt, there are a number of simple things you can do to protect yourself.

If you think you are a victim of identity theft, there is information available to assist you.