I too rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious Drugs, Identity Crime and Other Measures) Bill 2012. As the nature of crime changes and as technology changes, it is important that we give police the tools they need to keep up with emerging criminal trends and threats. This is particularly the case with organised crime.
This bill makes a series of amendments to existing criminal legislation to strengthen the law and the Commonwealth’s response to these threats.
While the bill has a number of provisions, I will be focusing my contribution to the debate on this bill mainly on a particular type of crime—that is, identity theft. I take a particular interest in identity theft because I have come across so many stories about it through my work as Chair of the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety. Identity theft particularly came to the fore as one of the many threats facing seniors during the committee’s inquiry into cybersafety for senior Australians.
This crime involves using an individual’s personal details, usually obtained through deceitful or fraudulent means, to assume their identity. It is commonly used for financial gain, with the victim usually being the person whose identity has been stolen. There are a number of ways of stealing personal information for identity theft, but the most common method is known as ‘phishing’. Phishing generally involves sending an email purporting to be from an official source, such as a financial institution or a lottery, or someone asking the recipient to act as an intermediary in the transfer of funds. The purpose of the email is to fool the recipient into sending personal details, such as their user name, address, date of birth, tax file number, driver’s licence number, passport number, passwords or credit card details. Phishing emails usually entice their victims through offers of money and will direct them to a website, often a mirror of the website of the company they are purporting to represent, to add to their perceived legitimacy.
In 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a survey about personal fraud. The survey reported that 57,800 Australians had responded to phishing emails and 124,000 Australians had been victims of identity theft. I know that that number has grown substantially because of the way technology is changing so quickly. Phishing scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as was indicated by evidence given to the cybersafety committee by the Australian Taxation Office. The ATO has received complaints about a scam involving a fraudulent email offering a tax refund. A link in the email directs the recipient to a bogus website which then asks them to provide their personal details, including credit card details. The scammers have gone to great lengths to make the email and the website look as authentic as possible and—unlike the well-known Nigerian and lottery scams, which entice their victims with large and, frankly, unbelievable sums of money—the tax refund scam offers what appears to be a credible sum, in the hundreds of dollars and not a round figure, so people are tricked a bit more easily.
Cybercriminals are becoming so brazen that cybercrime brokers are posting advertisements in online discussion forums promoting their services. The Australian Crime Commission in its submission to the cybersafety for seniors inquiry said that some of the information for sale included credit card details, magnetic strip coding and personal identification numbers, hacked payment clearing company account data, bank logins and stolen identities.
The Australian Federal Police in its submission to the inquiry identified superannuation fraud as an emerging risk for identity crime and identity theft. This is worrying because of the large amount of savings held in superannuation funds but particularly because a lot of victims are not aware that they have had their identity stolen until many years after the crime has been committed. So this bill is really important to making sure we keep Australians safe while they are online. Superannuation fraud usually results in the offenders transferring funds into self-managed accounts or applying for hardship payments. Obviously it causes devastation for the victims, many of whom lose their life savings. That is another grave consequence of identity crime committed online.
According to some other evidence we have had, a lot of seniors are reluctant to use internet banking or other online services because of concerns about the lack security around their financial information or access to bank accounts and credit cards. It is unfortunate that so many people who could benefit greatly from the use of online services miss out on those benefits because of the fear of these risks.
The social cost of identity crime and identity theft actually extends well beyond those directly affected. Modern technology, particularly internet technology, is delivering fantastic social and economic benefits by providing users with new tools to transact with business, government, friends and family. But it is also providing new and sophisticated tools to cybercriminals, who have no qualms about using identities or personal information for their own financial gain.
While the online environment is not the only avenue for identity thieves, it is where they are finding most of their new opportunities, and it is so important that our law enforcement capabilities keep up with these criminals. It is vital that our law enforcement authorities have the tools to combat identity theft, and the bill currently before the Senate at least provides some of the legislative tools necessary.
This bill broadens the definition of identity crime offences, making it an offence to deal in identification information to commit foreign indictable offences, not just Commonwealth indictable offences. This will strengthen the current regime for identity crime by capturing individuals located in Australia who engage in international identity crime.
The bill also introduces the new offence of dealing in identity information using a carriage service. This will capture people who use the internet to make, supply or use identification information for the purpose of committing or facilitating a Commonwealth, state, territory or foreign offence. The bill also adds a new series of offences to the Criminal Code of using a false identity to purchase an air ticket or to travel by air.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my contribution, today I am focusing primarily on identity crime as this is an area of great interest to me, but there are a number of other provisions in the bill. Due to the shortage of time today I will just mention them quickly, but they are no less important than those around identity crime.
The bill will enable new substances to be listed more quickly under the Commonwealth’s serious drug offences framework; increase the value of the penalty unit for Commonwealth criminal offences and provide for its regular review to keep pace with inflation; clarify that a superannuation order can be made in relation to employer funded contributions and benefits accrued during all periods of Commonwealth employment, not just the particular period of employment in which an employee committed a corruption offence; and strengthen the Commonwealth law enforcement integrity system by clarifying the functions of the Integrity Commissioner.
In commending the bill to the Senate I would like to congratulate the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, for her hard work in bringing Australia’s criminal law up to date with emerging threats and issues. In an increasingly connected global society, and with the emergence of faster and better communications technology, organised crime is truly becoming more sophisticated than ever before. As society changes and as technology changes, so must the provisions of our criminal law. We need to give our law enforcement authorities the legislative tools to combat crime in the 21st century. I commend the bill to the Senate.