Identity theft continues to rise year on year. According to Crimestoppers, identity crime cost the UK economy £2.7 billion last year, and 7% of British people have been victims of this type of fraud.
Stealing a person’s identity is usually done for some type of financial gain.
- Diverting your money into another account
- Stealing cash from your account
- Obtaining goods without paying for them
- Using your ID to claim benefits or work illegally
It’s commonly linked with criminal networks, and the money raised can be used to fund larger crimes.
Your personal details, or identity, can be stolen in a number of ways:
- Mugging, pickpocketing or burglary to obtain credit card details, bank records, passports, driving licences and other account details
- Card fraud such as ‘skimming’, where a small device is used to steal details
- Stealing your mail from the post, communal mailboxes or dustbin
- Online fraud, including ‘trojan horse’ attacks and fake websites
- Criminals posing as bank employees trying to find out your PIN or other bank details over the phone
This isn’t a victimless crime – finding out you’ve had your identity stolen can be very stressful. It’s also time consuming to report and to gain compensation. According to CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, it can take between 3 and 48 hours of work for typical victims to sort out their lives and clear their names – and sometimes much longer if there has been a ‘total hijack’.
How can I protect myself?
While most of us are aware of identity fraud, we don’t always take the necessary steps to prevent it. For example, about 25% of us admit to putting bank statements and other account details straight into the dustbin.
There are some simple steps you can take for prevention:
- Don’t let your credit or debit card out of your sight during transactions
- Never share your banking PIN with anyone, including someone who says they’re from your bank
- Shred all personal information before throwing it away (including your name and address on envelopes), preferably using a crosscut shredder
- Notify all relevant authorities when you move house, including Council Tax, bank, utilities and the electoral register (you can also pay for a postal redirection from Royal Mail to be extra safe)
- Keep your personal documents safely put away at home, out of sight
- Make sure your home is secure, including access to your letterbox
- Follow up on any post that goes missing
- Report lost driving licences or passports immediately
- Check all transactions on your bank and credit card statements for unusual or unexpected transactions
- Carry out a credit check on yourself every now and again using companies such as Experian and Equifax
And when online:
- Keep antivirus and firewall software up to date on your computer
- Don’t open emails or attachments that you weren’t expecting
- Avoid making financial transactions on shared or public computers
- Use different passwords for each online account, and choose complex passwords
- Only make purchases from secure websites (look for the padlock symbol, and ‘https://’ in the web address)
- Be careful how much information you put on social networking sites, including your date of birth, phone number and so on
If you suspect identity theft
It can sometimes take weeks or months for identity theft and fraud to become apparent. The most common signs are:
- Strange payments or direct debits on your bank statements
- Suddenly going overdrawn if you don’t normally
- Bills arriving for things you haven’t bought
- Important post going missing or being redirected
- Finding unexpected credit agreements in your name (cards, hire purchase etc) during a credit check
As soon as you become suspicious, take action:
- Contact your bank or credit card company immediately if money goes missing, or unusual payments are made. Keep a note of your phone calls, and follow it up in writing.
- Contact one of the three main credit reference agencies and report the problem, and find out about the full extent of the fraud
- Get in touch with the Royal Mail if your post has been tampered with
- Report the fraud to Action Fraud
There’s extensive advice for victims of identity theft and fraud on the Crimestoppers website too.