ChannelLife New Zealand logo
Industry insider news for New Zealand's technology resellers
Story image

Online identity theft is rising in NZ - here’s what to do about it

By Jessie Chiang
Mon 27 Jun 2022

It may start with a few stolen details online, but it could result in thousands of dollars missing or worse, a reputation down the drain.

Netsafe data shows incidents of identity fraud in New Zealand increased by 86% over the financial year of 2020 and 2021, while incidents of investment fraud have risen by 37% over the same period.

The 2022 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report also found that more than a fifth of New Zealand adults surveyed experienced identity theft, compared with 16% in 2020.

The report found that the majority of identity theft victims (95%) experienced some impact, such as freezing their credit cards (47%), time spent resolving the issues created (33%), or having money stolen (29%). 

Rizwan Asghar is a senior lecturer of computer science at the University of Auckland, specialising in cybersecurity.

He believes the pandemic has increased the amount of identity fraud.

"When we were going into the office, it was easy to check if the IT admin or my manager or someone from the organisation was asking you to do something. It was much easier to double-check because we're there in person," he says.

"But with online, you never know. If you don't pay attention to where this information is being sent when you reply, this may result in identity theft as well."

"It is much easier to commit identity theft online or in cyberspace compared to the traditional settings," he says.

Ian Welch is an associate professor in Victoria University's school of engineering and computer science. He's also the lead of Owhiti, the university's cybersecurity group, and he agrees that COVID-19 has led to increased phishing attacks and, ultimately, identity theft.

"The big thing that was observed overseas, I'm not sure if we saw it so much here, but for instance in the US where they got some monetary support, there were lots of people sending our fake, 'you're entitled to this, simply send us all these details' emails," he says.

"There's definitely a change, they're making use of that fear and uncertainty that we all face around these times."

Welch believes the current figures might not reflect the actual scale of the problem.

"I can well believe this is underreported because people don't always realise and there can be a bit of stigma associated with it. Also, I think that anecdotally that some people discount it, I've had this weird charge to my card but the effort of chasing it up outweighs the risk," he says.

So, as more of our lives move online, what can be done about identity theft?

Obtaining someone's personal information isn't a crime - using it is

CERT NZ explains identity theft becomes a crime when someone uses the information they've taken to get something they're not entitled to, like a credit card, passport or driver's license.

It says even "basic information like your name, date of birth, and address can be enough for someone to impersonate you."

In most cases, identity theft is committed for financial gain, and the victim might not realise it until, as CERT NZ explains:

  • they see that someone else has logged into, and is using, their social media accounts.
  • they get bills or invoices for things they didn't order.
  • they see charges on their bank statements or credit card for things they didn't buy.
  • they get turned down for a loan because their credit rating shows they haven't been paying their bills.
  • a debt collector contacts them.

Welch points to a recent example where Christchurch man Philip Nicholson had his credit score wrecked, dropping from 900 to 300 after his Flight Centre Mastercard was stolen by identity thieves, who then went on a spending spree.

"They had managed to somehow get access to his account then changed his security questions - those questions like, where we were born, who are parents are, where did we grow up, all that kind of stuff, which can be quite easy to guess in some cases where people reveal too much information about themselves," says Welch.

"They (the thieves) changed his contact address and his email and his phone number so this meant that he wasn't receiving his statements, and he didn't see any transactions on it any kind."

How to protect yourself from online identity theft

Welch says there are several things people can do to prevent their identities or personal information from being stolen, such as checking bank statements.

He says if someone suddenly isn't receiving their bank statements, credit card statements, or other accounts regularly, that could be a worrying sign. But Welch acknowledges that's harder because it's checking absence rather than existence.

The associate professor says he found out about online theft after checking his bank statements.

"Me and my partner, we had somebody buying some auto car parts on our credit card somehow, which is kind of ironic since we didn't at that point actually own a car," he says.

Norton's report also found that of those who experienced identity theft, 43% discovered the theft themselves, most commonly by monitoring their financial accounts online (18%). In addition, more than one in three were notified about their identity theft by an external source (36%), with more than one in five (21%) saying they were told by their bank or credit card company. 

Welch says another thing people can do is to run a regular credit check on themselves, and in New Zealand, some websites do free credit checks.

"That sounds like a really worthwhile thing because if someone's stolen your driver's license and some other information, and they get a loan in your name, you're not going to be receiving the statements for those because it's set up under another email and another identity," he says.

There are also mechanisms in place in banks and credit card companies to catch identity thieves. Two-step authentication helps, but Welch says recognising behaviour is a big one, and often AI is used to detect different patterns. For example, he explains that they might look for a burst of transactions in a short time at places the customer doesn't usually shop at.

Welch says sometimes the thieves also buy small purchases to test the card.

"People can buy stolen credit cards on the dark web nowadays, probably on Discord, because you can set up a Discord server and there are there groups for this kind of thing, even in New Zealand," he says.

"They'll sell these credit card numbers and they'll say, 'Oh, well, we've tested them with these small amounts'".

Another tell is purchases in global locations, although Welch says this identifier might not be as effective now with more and more people travelling internationally.

"It used to be that suddenly they ring you because your credit cards are being used in a different country. But nowadays, that happens all the time," he says.

That's where checking behaviour is still the best mechanism. Asghar says generally, most organisations have that kind of system in place.

"The real problem is very small organisations. They may not have the resources to have these sophisticated systems in which case they have to think about the extent of data they are storing," he says.

Welch says simply talking about it with friends and family can also be important. He says about three years ago, the university conducted a study where they ran some phishing attacks on an organisation as an experiment.

"We found that some of the phishing was detected because people actually got together and had a coffee together. They were like, 'did you get this really weird email from our local coffee provider?'," says Welch.

"This social aspect actually helped. And I do wonder whether we lost that to some extent. You can have that recreated online, of course, through social networks of various sorts, but maybe people are more willing to share these things in person."

The future of identity theft

Welch says synthetic identities are the next level of theft, where people generate deep fake identities, using things like AI to scam victims. He says algorithms are being used to create synthetic faces so that they look believable and they don't match anybody in the world, defeating reverse image searches.

"They create these synthetic identities with information that you can't just check easily. It sounds like a really long con where you set up fake Facebook profiles and things like that," he says.

"It's quite troubling - these sorts of cons always went on in the past, but now we're starting to automate them. It's a step up from the old Nigerian prince scam."

Public Interest Journalism Fund logo
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.
Related stories
Top stories
Story image
SmartWatch
Hands-on review: Huawei Watch D smart watch
The Huawei Watch D is the latest flagship smart watch from the Chinese tech giant, and it's further proof that the company is more than capable of competing with the likes of Samsung and Apple in the highly competitive wearable market.
Story image
Smartphone
Hands-on review: OPPO Find X5 smartphone
With the release of the new OPPO Find X5 in March, we got the opportunity to explore another one of their premium devices.
Story image
Review
Hands-on review: JBL Flip 6 portable speaker
Once you switch it on, and listen away for up to 12 hours, you will quickly realise that this is a little speaker looking for a party.
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Fastly, INX, Kinly, SmartBear & Vectra AI
We round up all job appointments from July 29 - August 12, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Smartphone
Samsung introduces new generation of foldable smartphones
Samsung has unveiled its new range of Galaxy Z smartphones, bringing new developments to the company’s foldable smartphone portfolio.
Story image
Dicker Data
Dicker Data brought on as Acronis partner for A/NZ
The news about the partnership comes in as cyber criminals continue to exploit gaps in traditional solutions and strategies in NZ and across the APAC region.
Story image
Red Hat
Red Hat announces 2022 awards winners for A/NZ region
Red Hat recently acknowledged Australia and New Zealand partners with its annual awards, highlighting partners across various categories.
Story image
Financial results
Jade Software’s plan to get back to surplus in 2022
Jade Software has released its latest financial report, revealing that the company has kept its loss low from $567,000 in FY 2020 to just $153,000 in FY 2021.
Story image
Application Performance Monitoring / APM
New Relic integrates offering with Atlassian’s Jira Software
New Relic has integrated errors inbox with Jira Software to allow developers to easily access and set up complete stack error tracking and software performance monitoring from within the tool.
Story image
New Zealand
2degrees announces appointments to newly established board
2degrees has announced Liz Coutts as the board chair, while Russell Stanners and Kathy Meads join her as directors.
Story image
Hybrid Cloud
The essential guide to digital transformation by SolarWinds
Digital transformation is a buzzword thrown around all the time by companies, but what does it actually mean and why is it important? SolarWinds breaks it down.
Story image
Google Cloud
Google Cloud to open first cloud region in NZ - among others
Google Cloud has announced plans to bring three new cloud regions, one each in New Zealand, Malaysia and Thailand.
Story image
Surveillance
Ministry will no longer accept equipment from Chinese firm Hikvision
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says it will no longer accept equipment from a major Chinese surveillance camera maker.
Story image
SaaS
Cloud and data protection big challenges for NZ businesses
"This surge towards a cloud-first approach meant security and safety became afterthoughts - there's no point being the fastest car on the racetrack if you crash.”
Story image
Microsoft
Spectralink DECT devices now integrated with Microsoft Teams SIP Gateway
Spectralink DECT devices are now integrated with Microsoft Teams SIP Gateway to help create better results for business-critical frontline workers.
Story image
Neat
Workplace design a crucial factor for better employee experience - report
The key to a successful workplace could be its design, according to research from Ecosystm and Neat.
Story image
Sustainability
NZ program recovers and recycles more than 177 tonnes of e-waste
The TechCollect NZ pilot program says its milestone of recovering and recycling more than 177 tonnes of ICT e-waste recognises the efforts of many.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Exclusive: NZ-based DEFEND offers global cyber protection
DEFEND supports customers in 66 countries across the globe with a relentless focus on ensuring that every dollar spent on security provides a meaningful return on investment and reduces cyber risk.
Story image
Cyber attacks
Dramatic uptick in threat activity with exploits growing nearly 150%
"While it’s not a surprise given increased attack opportunities like remote work, it’s still a worrying development and one we cannot ignore."
Story image
Arlo
Hands-on review: Arlo Go 2 security camera
In my humble opinion, Arlo Go 2 offers security for anyone needing to keep a remote eye on prized possessions or premises at different locations.
Story image
CyberCX
Nozomi Networks adds nine partners to its MSSP program
OT and IoT security company Nozomi Networks has added nine new members to its MSSP Partner Program, and the list includes CyberCX and Deloitte.
Story image
Charity
SnapLogic teams up with meetmagic for charity and children
SnapLogic has announced its partnership with meetmagic, an online Australian platform that combines business and philanthropy.
Story image
Economics
9 in 10 retailers prepared for economic challenges this year
Some 9 in 10 retailers (86%) are prepared for continued inflation, higher interest rates and potentially lower consumer spending, according to new research.
Story image
Machine learning
Sysdig releases CDR offering to combat cryptojacking
Sysdig has unveiled a cloud detection and response (CDR) offering powered by machine learning to combat cryptojacking.
Story image
IDC
High level of Customer Identity & Access Management adoption
The study from Okta revealed that the pandemic has either accelerated or highlighted the need for digital-first strategies.
Story image
Web application firewall
Radware recognised in KuppingerCole’s 2022 Leadership Compass report
Radware has been named a Product, Innovation, Market and Overall Leader in the 2022 KuppingerCole Leadership Compass report for Web Application Firewalls.
Story image
Home Entertainment
Hands-on review: TCL 65″ C835 Mini LED 4K Google TV
We introduce you today to a TV that brings the height of immersion to your viewing experience: The TCL 65″ C835 Mini LED 4K Google TV.
Story image
Privileged Access Management / PAM
The importance of stopping identity sprawl for cybersecurity
The 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) shows that 61% of all breaches involve malicious actors gaining unauthorised, privileged access to data by using a compromised credential. Unfortunately, it is often too late when the misuse of a credential is detected.
Story image
Ingram Micro
Ingram Micro NZ sees $74 million revenue growth in 2021
Ingram Micro New Zealand's latest financial report reveals that its revenue from contracts with customers increased by almost $74 million in 2021.
Story image
Gaming
Attacks on gaming companies more than double over past year
The State of the Internet report shows gaming companies and gamer accounts are at risk, following a surge in web application attacks post pandemic.
Story image
ExtraHop
Organisations exposing highly sensitive protocols to public internet
More than 60% of organisations expose remote control protocol SSH to the public internet, while 36% of organisations expose the insecure FTP protocol.
Story image
Compliance
Why security needs to shape your journey to the cloud
It's estimated that 80% of workloads could be in the cloud in the next few years. How can you make all that data secure?
Story image
Document Management
TrustRadius gives M-Files two document management awards
TrustRadius has recognised M-Files with both a 2022 Best Feature Set and a 2022 Best Relationship award in document management.
Story image
Dark web
Beware the darkverse and its cyber-physical threats
A darkverse of criminality hidden from law enforcement could quickly evolve to fuel a new industry of metaverse-related cybercrime.
Story image
Home security
Hands-on review: Eufy Wire-Free Dual Cam Video Doorbell 2K
We have had our house secured by Eufy products for over seven months now. We love the brand, and it has never let us down.
Story image
Distribution
Garmin expands NZ footprint with new Auckland distribution centre
The facility at Goodman’s Highbrook Business Park will be fully operational from October 2022 and features 3,586sqm of warehouse space.
Story image
LG Electronics
LG Electronics’ revenue in NZ grows by 57% in FY 2021
The New Zealand branch of LG Electronics Australia's total revenue shot up by nearly NZD $45 million reaching a total of $123.7 million for FY 2021.
Story image
Gigabit
Keysight Technologies and Nokia’s public test of 800GE success
Keysight and Nokia have successfully demonstrated the first public 800GE test, validating the readiness of next-generation optics for service providers and network operators.
Story image
Samsung
New range of Samsung Smart Watches announced with health focus
Samsung has announced new additions to its SmartWatch portfolio, with the Galaxy Watch5 and Galaxy Watch5 Pro to be released in late August.
Story image
Developers
Snyk announces plans to expand partner network in APJ
Recognising that partnerships are critical for growth, Snyk is building an entire partner ecosystem that will drive its expansion across APJ.