As part of its ongoing strategy to deal with online crime, the Federal Government yesterday (26 November 2014) launched a new reporting network at the CeBIT conference. The network, known as ACORN (the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network), allows victims to securely report cybercrime incidents. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “ACORN will also enable police to compile a national picture of the types of cybercrime affecting individuals and businesses, improving the way they tactically respond to key cybercrime theft”.
The launch comes following the release of a report by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department that revealed identity crime is costing Australians at least $1.6 billion every year. The report, “Identity crime and misuse in Australia” was released as part of the National Identity Security Strategy, which was developed in 2007 as a collaboration between State and Federal governments. The report raises a number of issues about the prevalence of identity crime, the likelihood of underreporting, the impact on victims and the need for standardisation and information sharing between agencies.
The report defines “identity crime” as
“a generic term that describes a range of activities/offences where a perpetrator uses an identity (some combination of personal information) that is fabricated, manipulated, stolen or assumed from another person in order to facilitate the commission of a crime(s).
Identity crime is rarely an end in itself, but an important element in a wide range of criminal activities.”
The report lists various case studies and examples of types of crimes that can result from identity crime, including various kinds of financial fraud, money laundering and concealing drug trafficking and child exploitation material.
A 5000-person survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2013 found that 9.4% of respondents reported stolen or misused personal information in the last year, with 5% suffering from financial losses as a result. However, the report found that identity crime is likely under-reported, saying “recent research has shown that only 50 per cent of credit card fraud victims and 66 per cent of identity theft victims reported the incident to a formal institution.” These numbers make identity-related crimes one of the most prevalent types of crime in Australia.
The report found that Medicare cards and drivers licenses were the most likely to be used as part of an identity crime. Counterfeit Medicare cards can apparently be obtained for around $80, which the report surmises is because they are “relatively easy to reproduce, particularly in light of the fact that they contain very few security features”.
The report also notes that the increased take up of the Document Verification Service will lead to more counterfeit credentials being detected and that“[t]he expected result is a displacement effect; criminals’ use of counterfeit credentials will be replaced by legitimately issued documents containing fraudulent identity details”.
The Australian Institute of Criminology Survey also found that victims lost on average $4,101 per incident. However, the report highlights that the majority of victims lose relatively small amounts of money, with half of victims reporting losing less than $250 and three quarters losing less than $1000. Although financial losses are often reimbursed by institutions, victims can suffer other kinds of non-monetary loss. The survey also found that the average victim would spend at least 18 hours dealing with an incident, with more than 200 hours needed for victims of a “total identity hack”. Six percent also reported being wrongly accused of a crime, with 15% experiencing some mental or physical health impact.
A key finding in the report was that, “[a]side from underreporting, the single biggest limitation on efforts to measure identity crime is the lack of standardisation between organisations over definitions and how incidents are recorded”.
According to the report:
In response to the requests for data and information about identity crime, a number of agencies indicated that they either do not collect, or could not provide data that would be useful for the pilot measurement indicators. For example, only two out of nine police agencies; two out of eight registries of births, deaths and marriages; and three out of eight consumer affairs departments could provide relevant data within the time and resources available.
The report made it clear that Federal and State government agencies need to invest more time and resources into dealing with identity crimes and recording the necessary information, in order to inform appropriate responses to crime. While not all identity crime is committed on the internet, web resources such as ACORN may be critical in helping acquire more data on how certain kinds of identity crime affect Australians.
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