How prevalent is it?

12.8 In August 2007, a Community Attitudes to Privacy survey was prepared for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC).[12] Sixty percent of respondents were concerned about becoming the victim of identity theft or fraud. Nine percent of respondents to the survey claimed to have been the victim of identity theft or fraud.[13] Apart from this, there is very little information about the prevalence of identity theft in Australia. This is partly because the acquisition of the information is not generally a criminal offence. Rather, it is the later use of the information for certain purposes that attracts criminal liability. This makes it difficult to locate information about rates of identity theft. In addition, not all instances of identity theft are reported to authorities or otherwise disclosed. Agencies and organisations in particular may be reluctant to report identity theft for fear that it will cause damage to their reputations or expose weaknesses in their security systems.[14]

12.9 In 2000, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration recommended that Australian governments and industries work together to develop national statistics on the extent and cost of identity fraud.[15] In response to this recommendation, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre’s Steering Committee on Proof of Identity commissioned a report on the nature, cost and extent of identity fraud in Australia. This report found that the cost of identity fraud to Australia in 2001–02 was approximately $1.1 billion.[16] This estimate included the costs associated with preventing, detecting and responding to identity fraud, as well as losses directly incurred as a result of the fraud.[17] Unfortunately, given its focus on identity fraud, which includes fraud committed using fictitious identity information, this report does little to illuminate the full extent or cost of identity theft in Australia.

12.10 In 2003, the Australian Institute of Criminology and PricewaterhouseCoopers released the results of a study of 155 serious fraud prosecutions completed in Australia and New Zealand in 1998 and 1999.[18] Stolen identities were used in approximately 13% of the cases studied.[19] In 2007, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report that contained the results of an identity theft survey. With reference to these results, the FTC suggested that approximately 8.3 million adults in the United States were the victims of identity theft in 2005.[20]

[12] Wallis Consulting Group, Community Attitudes Towards Privacy 2007 [prepared for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner] (2007).

[13] Ibid, 67–68.

[14] N Dixon, Identity Fraud: Research Brief No 2005/03 (2005) Parliament of Queensland—Parliamentary Library, 3.

[15] Parliament of Australia—House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics Finance and Public Administration, Numbers on the Run—Review of the ANAO Report No 37 1998–99 on the Management of Tax File Numbers (2000), rec 18.

[16] S Cuganesan and D Lacey, Identity Fraud in Australia: An Evaluation of its Nature, Cost and Extent (2003) Securities Industry Research Centre of Asia-Pacific, 55.

[17] Ibid, Ch 5.

[18] Australian Institute of Criminology and PricewaterhouseCoopers, Serious Fraud in Australia and New Zealand, Australian Institute of Criminology Research and Public Policy Series No 48 (2003).

[19] Ibid, 2.

[20] United States Federal Trade Commission, 2006 Identity Theft Survey Report (2007), 4.