Online identity theft

In the physical world, footprints show where we have been, where we are going and even the places we have stopped along the way. Footprints have been vital pieces of evidence in many court cases and are often used as metaphorical representations of progression.

So what about our 'digital' footprints? The majority of Internet users are probably unaware that when they traipse through the digital world, they leave behind a clear and systematic series of digital footprints that can be used to trace where they have been and in many cases piece together information about their lives and habits which, if they fall into the wrong hands can be used to steal their identities, commit fraud or worse.

The information that we leave behind on the internet is PERMANENT. The digital footprint that you leave behind today can be used by a potential employer five years from now to determine your suitability for a job, and with the rise of social networking sites people are putting more and more personal information on the internet.

Some people will say that they never put their address or personal details online but what most people dont realise is that it is a combination of various sources that form our digital footprint and one which can be compromised.

Your birth date from Facebook, your address details from WhitePages, your Mothers maiden name from MySpace, your high-school details from Friends Reunited and all of a sudden a potential identity thief has all the information they need to open bank accounts or apply for credit cards in your name.

Symantec takes this subject very seriously and has even researched Australia's online habits. The results of this research was released on Friday 30 November, 2007 to coincide with World Computer Security Day. Some of the interesting findings from the study include:
Australians typically have more than ten online profiles or virtual identities
20 percent of all Australians believe that their online identities are closer to their true self, then their real-world identities
6 percent of Australians are willing to go as far as saying that they enjoy their online life more than their real-life!

As far as victims go, our idea would be to create them ourselves. We could maybe use one of your staff writers if they volunteer? We'd have our Symantec team go online, pull together information from various sources and then show how easily that information can be used to apply for bank accounts/credit cards etc to show just how easily your identity can be compromised.

With the Christmas holidays coming up and more and more people spending time on the internet, we believe this is an appropriate time to remind people to be vigilant online.

Key Findings - The Symantec Identity Survey

  • Australians typically have more than 10 online profiles or virtual identities
  • 20 percent of Australians believe that their online identities are closer to their true self, than their real-world identity (amongst Australian online power users of social networking sites, dating sites, virtual worlds or gaming sites, this figure jumps to 40 percent)

  • 77 percent of Australians believe that people share more information about themselves online, than they do in the real world

  • The majority of Australians provide personal information in the public online domain that could put them at risk of online identity theft

  • The survey found that nine out of 10 Australians aged between 16 and 49 are Internet users

    Survey findings released today by information security specialist Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMCs) reveal Australians typically have more than 10 online profiles or virtual identities. Interestingly, 20 percent of Australians believe that their online profile is closer to their true self, than their physical or real-world identities.

    The Symantec Identity Survey conducted by Woolcott Research on behalf of Symantec, examined whether Australians are increasingly defining themselves through their virtual identities and how this might affect identity management and risk.

    Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller believes the findings reflect the evolving behaviour of a new generation of people who are more comfortable with their online identities, lives and relationships than they are with their real-world friends or even themselves.

    "We have been aware that young people have actively been redefining what friendship means through online interactions. This survey now shows us this is not just restricted to young people, or even digital natives. "

    "Seventeen percent of Australian online power users believe their online profile is more about who they would like to be, rather than who they really are. This finding clearly shows its not just friendship or peer networks that are being re-defined but also your own sense of who you are," said Mr Fuller.

    In addition to the issue of identity, the survey also shows that people liked the relative anonymity of the Internet, potentially encouraging them to be more open - but it also exposes them to more risk.

    Based on the survey findings, two-thirds of Australians say they are more likely to share personal information with other people on the Internet than they would in person. However, the same figure (66 percent of respondents) also believe most people do not think about the possible consequences of posting personal information online.

    "One of the odd findings is that people can be fully aware of the dangers of identity theft online and still act in ways that place them at risk," said Mr Fuller.

    "This is largely because the more ubiquitous and necessary a product or technology becomes, the easier it is to ignore even well-known risks associated with it. This phenomenon is known as risk denial."

    The survey also found 54 percent of Australians provide three or more types of personal details online to sites such as blogs, social networking sites, shopping or auction sites. Other key findings within this category include:

  • 63 percent of Australians have revealed their real name online and a third also admitted to revealing their home address online

  • 29 percent of respondents have provided their bank details or credit card numbers to non-banking websites

    Symantec advises Internet users apply caution given predators and cyber criminals typically use fragmented pieces of information or personal details (such as a real name, date of birth, phone number, email address, physical address, or photographs) to steal or misuse someones identity.

    Symantecs Vice President for the Consumer Business in Asia Pacific Japan, David Freer says that despite the very real risks of providing such information, 43 percent of Australians believe online risks would never stop or limit the way they interact online.

    "The Symantec Australian Identity Survey is a clear indication of how entrenched the Internet has become in our lives and is all the more reason why Australians need to have sufficient online protection, as well as practice good online safety principles." "Protecting identities today requires that we help PC users make smart choices and safeguard their personal information," said Freer.

    To provide Australians with a better understanding of online safety, Symantec has created the Ten Minute Guide to Staying Smart Online (which is available online at ) and the Symantec Family Resource (located at ).

    The Symantec Identity Survey coincides with International Computer Security Day today.

    Online risks

  • Three out of five parents agree online sexual predators are the biggest threat to their children using the Internet

  • In terms of risk of identity theft or misuse, 46 percent of Australians believe they are at some degree of risk online (a quarter gave a high risk rating of 8-10)

  • 24 percent felt they were at risk to a degree in the real world (however only 11 percent gave a high risk rating here of 8-10)

    16-24 year olds

  • 92 percent of internet profilers who have posted personal details that may put themselves at risk of identity theft, think they are careful of the type of info that they provide within a profile

  • 93 percent of internet users who have posted personal details that may put themselves at risk of identity theft indicated they manage online profile risks by being cautious (i.e. not providing personal info to anyone)

  • 41 percent of those who are worried that info they post online could lead to identity theft/ being used against them, but still said they would never stop or limit the way they interact online due to online risks

  • . 41 percent of those who have posted personal details which may put themselves at risk of identity theft, are actually not worried about identity theft from the info they post online about themselves

    About the survey
    The Symantec Identity Survey was an OmniAccess Consumer national omnibus survey conducted by Woolcott Research from 26th -29th October, 2007. 596 Australians aged between 16-49 years old were surveyed Nationally (NSW, VIC, QLD, WA, SA, TAS, ACT and NT) in both metropolitan and regional areas, of these 538 were internet users.

    The research was conducted to understand common perceptions about sharing personal information online and to explore how Australians are defining themselves through their virtual identities.

    The definition of online profiles, also include online registrations requiring personal information that can identify a person (online banking, online shopping, social networking sites, online dating sites, hobbies, music and sport sites, entertainment and ticketing sites, travel sites, gaming and virtual worlds).

    * Net uncomfortable refers to participants who gave a score 1-5 on a 10 point scale, where 1 is not at all comfortable, and 10 is extremely comfortable.

    The Symantec Identity Survey coincides with International Computer Security Day today -

    About Andrew Fuller
    As a clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller works with many schools and communities in Australia and internationally, specialising in the wellbeing of young people and their families. He is a Fellow of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Learning and Educational Development at the University of Melbourne.

    Andrew has been a principal consultant to the national drug prevention strategy REDI, the ABC on childrens television shows, is an Ambassador for Mind Matters and is a member of the National Coalition Against Bullying. For more information visit

    About Symantec
    Symantec is a global leader in infrastructure software, enabling businesses and consumers to have confidence in a connected world. The company helps customers protect their infrastructure, information and interactions by delivering software and services that address risks to security, availability, compliance and performance. Headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., Symantec has operations in more than 40 countries. More information is available at

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