Imagine someone stealing your personal details - things like your name, birth date, address, number and bank details – this is identity theft. Think about what they could do with that information and what they could access. Everything from your bank accounts to personal information like emails could be compromised, and along with it your money, your privacy and even your personal safety.
Using someone's identity for personal gain is known as identity fraud. It generally happens completely without the victim's knowledge, so they will probably only first notice that they're a victim after it has happened. They might receive unknown bills or notice unfamiliar transactions from their bank account for goods that they never purchased.
With the reported rise of identity fraud at a staggering 49%, it’s incredibly important to understand it, how you might be putting yourself at risk, and how it can be prevented.
Identity theft is the act of a fraudster getting hold of your personal information, and using it for their personal gain. Once these details are collected, they can be used by fraudsters to complete a number of activities without your knowledge. Their aim can be anything from stealing your money or goods, to performing criminal activity in your name.
The most common type of identity fraud is financial fraud (to access your bank accounts, to take out loans, phone contracts, house rentals or credit cards under your name, etc.), however there are a whole host of other things they can do: to create fraudulent forms of proof of identity, ordering illegal goods in your name; the list is endless. Not only can they open new accounts under your name, but they can also take over and access existing ones. Think about the kind of questions that banks will ask you when you’re going through security questions: your date of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc. They are seemingly harmless pieces of information but the damage that can be done if it gets into the wrong hands can be devastating.
Be Wary of What Information You Put Online
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly resourceful when it comes to identity theft, and in this digital world, stealing your personal details is becoming increasingly easy. Many unsuspecting victims will have information like your address, date of birth and full name readily available to the world via social networking sites like Facebook. It’s amazing what can be done with this information alone – someone could follow you home, intercept post, know when your home is empty (since you may even share that you’re off on holiday on Facebook, too).
Here are some steps you can follow to protect yourself:
Know Who You are Giving Your Personal Details To
To make sure a request for your personal details is legitimate, call the company first on their official phone number (one included on their website or on your statements, for example) to confirm that they require your details.
Is All the Requested Information Necessary?
Think to yourself if such information is required, and if you are unsure why it is being asked for – ask them why they need it.
Always Destroy Important Documents Properly
Shred them, burn them or cut them up.
Keep Your Belongings, Post and Accounts Secure
If living in a shared property, make sure your post box is secure and only you and your landlord have a key.
Do not leave cash withdrawal receipts behind. Similarly, when viewing your balance, keep it well shielded and make sure no one is stood nearby. The same applies for your PIN.
When you receive your bank statements, review each transaction. Make sure you remember undertaking the transaction. Any that are a surprise to you, call your bank to enquire.
Remember to change your passwords and keep updating them regularly. Make them fairly complicated with varying characters and numbers so that they cannot be easily guessed.
Shop Online With Caution
When shopping online or visiting your online banking, make sure there is a padlock next to the URL, and that the web page you’re visiting begins with https:// before entering any personal details. This means the site is well-protected and secure.
Think About Where You Are
It can be more risky using the internet at public Wi-Fi access points. The biggest danger being that unauthorised people can, if they know how or use the right hacking software, intercept personal information. Other risks can include capturing your passwords and reading your private emails, online banking or social media accounts. So if you use Wi-Fi, make sure that it is encrypted.
Never leave behind any details or open pages when you have finished your session when using a public computer. Never save passwords and always log out after using a public computer.
Anyone can have their personal details stolen, but by keeping such details to yourself, keeping social networking sites private (or better still, free from private information and by only giving information out to trusted individuals, no matter how trivial it may seem, you can reduce the risk of being a victim of identity fraud. Never give information out over email or over the phone unless you’re absolutely sure you know who you’re speaking to. Does your bank never normally contact you by email? Be aware of fake emails and ‘phishing’ – where companies pretend to be trusted organisations in order to harvest your personal details.
If you find suspicious, fraudulent activity, report it to the police and to Action Fraud. They are the UK’s national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre. You can go online or call 0300 123 2040.
Warning: Late repayment can cause you serious money problems. For help, go to moneyadviceservice.org.uk