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‘Unprecedented’: Bushfires prompt credit score, identity theft warning

The stress that comes with managing a bill during periods of disaster can also mean business owners miss legitimate bills or fall for fake bills on their return, Mr Doessell warned.

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These factors can combine with the pressures of lost business during bushfires to have a long term impact on credit scores, he said.

“Check your credit score and ensure you have mail redirects on. Next, business owners should be contacting their creditors.”

Australians lost $16 million to identity theft scams last year, according to the ACCC. However, only around 16 per cent of suspected cases are reported to police, according to New South Wales police.

Victoria Police said there were no early indications of a spike of identity theft cases in the wake of the fires, though urged citizens to be vigilant particularly if staying in temporary accomoddation or away from their homes or business sites.

“Be aware of anyone who contacts you unexpectedly claiming to be from a bank or other official organisation requesting personal information. If you are staying in a temporary location, consider providing status updates to organisations such as banks and utilities and having your mail redirected,” a spokesperson said.

Chief executive of credit reporting startup CreditorWatch Patrick Coghlan agreed that businesses should be as vigilant as possible about their documents and billing obligations during this time, as late payments can hurt credit scores in the long term.

He said after periods of natural disaster, many smaller operators tend to emerge with damaged credit scores even if their business premises have not been directly hit.

“The Brisbane floods are maybe the closest situation we can align it to, but the scale and size of this is just unprecedented.”

Mr Coghlan said situations like the fires should drive businesses to ensure their company documents are online as much as possible so their personal and company information secure even if they’re away from the business.

The biggest challenge for companies during this time is not having an accessible list of their liabilities so they can let their creditors know their may be disruptions to payments, he said.

“Prevention is better than cure — for these struggling businesses, if they are worried about making payments they need to be on the front foot with communicating. Most people should be fairly sympathetic, so if you can shoot off that email or make that call, be open about it.”

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