In addition to this, fraudsters have also been using ID theft to illegally obtain expensive smartphones in other people’s names. This type of fraud has increased by almost 40% in the last year, according to Cifas, the fraud prevention service. It leaves victims facing huge bills, damaged credit ratings and sometimes also the unwanted attentions of debt collection agencies.
How is this happening?
There are several forms of mobile ID fraud. One type is the physical theft of your mobile, which is then opened to steal your phone numbers and any other sensitive data. The handset may be sold on illegally, and the fraudsters can also use your information to order goods in your name, steal money from you, and so on.
Another type of mobile ID fraud leaves you with your handset, and only your data is stolen. Since modern smartphones are essentially mini portable computers, the information they store and transmit can be extensive (including your home address and your bank details). You may not even find out that identity theft has taken place until weeks or even months later.
Mobile data theft can happen in different ways. In its simplest form, someone can look over your shoulder to steal your details while you’re using your phone. A smartphone can also be affected by viruses, spyware and other malware. Another example is data theft while you’re using an unsecured network such as a WiFi hotspot in a public place, where an unauthorised person intercepts your data transfers, or via your Bluetooth connection.
The final type of mobile phone ID fraud is where criminals steal your personal details (mainly name, address and date of birth) and buy £500 smartphones, often getting several of them in your name. This appears to be most commonly done by creating various fake forms of ID, from bank statements to utility bills, and going into different phone shops posing as the victim. The fake ID is becoming increasingly sophisticated, but there is also some anecdotal evidence to suggest that certain phone shops are failing to carry out adequate security checks.
Many victims have complained that some phone providers have been unhelpful, or too slow to act, when they have reported fraudulent contracts being taken out in their names, or that the authorities have been unable, or too busy, to help them.
How to stay safe
- Take general precautions to prevent identity theft, as listed in our recent identity theft article. As some scammers appear to be taking personal details from the electoral roll to buy phones in other people’s names, you can ask your local council to remove your details from the Edited Register.
- Be very careful with your mobile phone to avoid the theft of your handset – never leave it unattended on a table in a café or pub, or on a car dashboard, for example.
- Set up the password function on your phone and keep it locked when you aren’t using it. Also set up a PIN on your voicemail so hackers can’t get into it.
- Don’t download apps unless they are from an official site, for example the Android Marketplace or Apple’s App Store. For more information about phone viruses and spyware, visit the Government’s mobile safety website.
- If you’re selling your phone, make sure you wipe all the data on it. Check with the user manual to see how to carry out a factory reset.
- Think twice about scanning QR codes if you’re out and about, especially if posters etc look like they’ve been tampered with. There’s more information about this on the official GetSafeOnline site.
- Don’t use unsecured WiFi connections for sensitive transactions, including sending emails containing passwords or credit card details.
- If you don’t use your Bluetooth, switch it to ‘off’. If you do use it, change your security settings to limit access by unknown devices.
- Many smartphones can now be remotely locked, and sometimes tracked, if they are stolen. This may be a feature of newer phones, or it can be done via an app. Visit the manufacturer’s website to see what’s available.
What to do if you suspect mobile fraud
- Contact your mobile service provider immediately to report a handset theft or any other mobile fraud. It is wise to make a note of the name of anyone you speak to, times and departments – and follow this up in writing soon afterwards, keeping a copy for your own records.
- Report any incidents to Action Fraud.
- If a fraud is committed and you have reported it, you should have your money refunded. However, in practice some companies are less than helpful, so check out your consumer rights on identity fraud refunds at AdviceGuide or contact your local Citizen Advice Bureau if you’re having problems.
- If a fraudster has purchased several mobile phones in your name and used a bank account that isn’t yours in the transactions, consider contacting that bank to have the fraudulent account closed. While this is technically not your responsibility, you may still find it useful.