Identity crime is a big deal, now NSW public servants have somewhere to send victims

By Stephen Easton

July 26, 2019

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The New South Wales government has struck a whole-of-government deal with a Trans-Tasman not-for-profit service that helps people recover from the consequences of having their personal information spilled out into public through a cyber attack or data breach.

Funding has been secured for state government agencies to refer up to 500 people to the IDCARE identity recovery service under a whole-of-government subscription, according to chief cyber security officer Tony Chapman.

No other government in Australia has anything quite like it. To refer somebody to IDCARE, public servants in NSW just have to contact Cyber Security NSW and get a unique reference code.

The organisation describes itself as “the only one of its type in the world,” and has responded to over 30,000 requests for help since 2014. Its “base support service” comes free of charge and it employs specialist counsellors and analysts to help provide human-centred support to the victims of identity crime.

It tries to help people recover from identity theft and those who fall prey to telephone scams, various forms of cyber-crime, mass data breaches and stolen log-in credentials.

Identity crime is a serious and growing problem in the age of regular cyber attacks and mass data breaches. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission offers some advice on the issue, and some statistics.

Almost $2 million has been lost to identity theft in this year alone, according to the ACCC Scamwatch figures, compared to a little under $1.5m in 2018, a shade over $1m in 2017 and a bit over $700,000 in 2016.

While the amount of money lost has clearly been climbing, the number of individual reports this year is much lower than for previous years. The proportion of identity theft reports that involve financial loss is also on the rise. This year, money was taken in 5.1% of cases compared to 3.3% last year and less than 2% in the two preceding years.

The cost to the nation of identity crime is much higher, according to the Australian Federal Police, which also offers advice, statistics, and information on what is being done to combat it.

“Recent estimates by the Attorney-General’s Department indicate that identity crime costs Australia upwards of $1.6 billion each year, with the majority (around $900m) lost by individuals through credit card fraud, identity theft and scams,” says the AFP website.

“More alarmingly, identity crime continues to be a key enabler of serious and organised crime, which in turn costs Australia around $15 billion annually.”

The deal struck in mid-July for customers of state government services fulfils a commitment in the NSW government’s Cyber Security Strategy.

“For customers of the NSW Government, this arrangement means a more direct connection between residents of NSW and the specialist support available via IDCARE,” Chapman said.

“As around one-in-three clients of IDCARE reside in NSW, our arrangement is a very practical and meaningful way the NSW Government can support customers impacted by scams, identity crimes and cybercrimes.”

Professor David Lacey, managing director of IDCARE, said a lot of IDCARE’s clients came to the organisation “after bouncing between organisations” trying to get some help.

“The NSW Government has shown great leadership in responding to the needs of those impacted. Connecting impacted residents to IDCARE quickly can make a real difference to the harm they experience online, the exposure they have to other crimes, and the timeliness of their response efforts,” Professor Lacey said.

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