Someone pretended to be me and made 20 fake bank accounts. Now, I'm in big trouble

jacque25

jacque25

Member
Celia, who lives in Australia, went through a terrible experience with identity theft. Even after several years, she was still struggling to stop criminals from using her name. Her story holds important lessons for everyone.

"When you realize you've been a victim of something like this, it's really scary. It makes you feel unsure and lost. It shakes your trust in the system."

Celia's problems started when she was moving houses in Sydney in November 2021. While loading her bags into an Uber in Chippendale, she encountered the beginning of her troubles.

Someone must have been watching her while she was carrying her belongings, seizing the opportunity to sneak over unnoticed. The thief timed their move when both she and the driver were distracted loading luggage into the car.

As Celia went to get in the car herself, she realized that her handbag was missing. Her driver's license, credit card, and Medicare card were inside.

The incident was frustrating, but what really shocked her was what unfolded next.

Celia’s story was brought to our attention by Verida, a security company specializing in privacy-preserving tools. Cybertechnews reached out to Celia and independently verified the information provided.

The risk wasn't clear at first
Celia was surprised by what had happened but relieved that her phone wasn't taken with her stolen bag.

"The main concern was the credit card," Celia remembers.

She acted quickly, calling her bank to cancel the card, and then didn't dwell on it much after that.

As time passed, something more sinister unfolded. Celia was surprised when a dance studio in Sydney's inner West contacted her out of the blue.

They had been receiving bank card envelopes addressed to her. This revelation made Celia realize that her stolen IDs were used to open numerous bank accounts without her knowledge.

"It starts with stealing someone's ID. Then, they apply online for a bank account using that ID. After uploading the stolen ID, they open the account. Finally, they need to receive the bank card, but they can't use their real address," Celia explained to Cybernews. "So, they choose fake addresses."

In this case, the fake address happened to be a warehouse near the dance studio. Celia was fortunate that the studio owner alerted her, as criminals were already running up significant overdrafts.

"One of them even applied for a credit card in my name at a major bank, which was very concerning," Celia revealed. "The bank didn't notify me; I had to inform them. I said, 'Hey, have you noticed that someone opened four accounts in my name?'"

The main aim of these identity thieves was to use the fake accounts to hide money earned from scams and other illegal activities.

"They need a place to stash the money, and they prefer it to be in accounts under real people's names," Celia explained. "Then, they spend that money and also overdraw the accounts. One of them is overdrawn by $4,000."

A long and tedious battle
Recovering lost funds and getting life back on track after identity theft is incredibly challenging. For Celia, the most frustrating part was dealing with the extensive paperwork and providing banks with the necessary information to close the fraudulent accounts.
To start the bureaucratic process, Celia had to physically go to bank branches with her passport and several documents proving her real address. Dealing with digital banks was no easier; she had to spend hours going back and forth with their customer service teams.

"Why was it so simple for a stranger to open a bank account using my name, yet so difficult for me to close them?" she questioned. "I had to go in person to the banks and provide a lot of identification, much more than was needed to open the accounts."

"And as a busy business owner, I simply don't have the time for this," she added.

Celia found it strange that even house-sitting websites request photo verification from users, yet banks don't do the same.

"It's ridiculous that this can happen. But this is how it is in Australia. I don't know if it's the same in the US or other countries. But here, apparently, all you need to open a bank account is to apply online and upload photos of your driver's license and Medicare card. You don't even need to upload your own photo," Celia shared with Cybernews.

The frustrating experience continued with many hours spent dealing with credit reporting companies like Equifax, Experian, and Illion. She had to freeze her credit with all three bureaus to prevent fraudulent loans from being taken out in her name, as fraudsters could severely damage her credit score.

"It's astonishing. Just a few small details and people can misuse your data," she remarked. "The banks don't seem to care, and neither do the police because it happens so frequently."

Protecting yourself​


It has taken Celia two years to recover from the identity theft and prevent criminals from using her data.

She tried to change the number on her driver's license but faced bureaucratic hurdles with the police report process. Fortunately, her situation improved when the third largest telecom company, Optus, was breached in another cyberattack, exposing her data.

"That turned out to be a blessing because I didn't have to go through all the hassle of paperwork to change my license. They just did it right there on the spot. It felt like such a relief, which might sound strange," Celia recalled.

She has a crucial message for consumers who want to avoid going through a similar ordeal: take the time to prioritize your data security, especially considering the advancements in AI technology.

"Our data is becoming more and more difficult to protect, and if we don't become more vigilant, it will only get trickier," she emphasized. "We're all so busy with work, family, and life in general, so it's not always easy or obvious to make data security a priority."

Celia is not alone in facing this issue. Identity theft is a growing problem worldwide. A recent survey by Debt.com found that 49% of Americans have been victims of this crime, leaving many in significant debt.

In the US, a new case of identity theft occurs every 22 seconds, with the Federal Trade Commission receiving over 1.4 million reports annually.

"It's distressing to know that people are being taken advantage of and losing their money every single day," Celia lamented. "I wish we could all have a system where we could take control of our identity and information."

Reflecting on her experience, Celia wishes she had explored privacy-preserving tools like Verida, which encrypt personal data using decentralized identities.

Verida eliminates the need for centralized authorities to manage and store sensitive data, potentially preventing similar breaches in the future. With Verida, credentials can be securely stored in an environment with anti-phishing measures, including Web2 logins and crypto addresses. Instant notifications are sent whenever external businesses request data, allowing users to approve or deny such requests.

"I would urge everyone to consider it as a gift to themselves for their next birthday – take the time to figure out what you can do to protect your personal data as securely as possible. It may not be a fun task, but it's far better than having your data stolen," Celia concluded.
 
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