Avoiding Identity Theft
New figures released recently suggest that identity theft has risen by nearly a third in the UK with criminals increasingly using internet forums to buy and sell data. Everyday Legal investigates this area of fraud and suggests some ways to avoid being a target for this criminal activity.
The fraud prevention service Cifas data shows that identity fraud was the main fraud threat between January and March 2015. There were 34,151 recorded instances of identity fraud in the first quarter of this year and of these 41% of cases involved credit cards and 27% bank accounts. The average age of fraud victims is 48 although an analysis of victims by age shows that the numbers peak for victims aged between 31 and 40. There was a 31% increase in the total numbers of victims between 2014 and 2015.
Identity theft occurs when criminals take on the personal identity details of a victim to either impersonate them or to fake an identity, in order to buy products or services. Identity theft is routinely perpetrated online with the 21-30 age group increasingly targeted.
Experian, the credit report website has said it takes an average of 246 days for people to realise they’ve had their identity stolen. Here are five signs that you may be the victim of identity theft:
- You receive unexpected, irrelevant post
- There are call charges appearing on your mobile phone bill that you can’t account for
- You receive a court summons for non-payment of a bill when it’s something you didn’t buy
- You receive a new laptop, TV or phone and you haven’t bought it
- You receive a call / letter / visit from a debt collector or bailiff about a loan you haven’t taken out.
Here are some hints and tips on how to protect yourself from identity crimes
- Shred all documents featuring your personal information before you throw these away. Pay particular attention to any documents that feature information about your financial situation.
- Thoroughly check all bills and financial statements identifying any transactions that may be suspicious and clarifying those with your provider.
- Passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) - never share passwords or PINs with anyone and do not write these down. Use strong passwords and PINs and avoid those which can be easily deduced eg: your date of birth. When you’re setting a password use a mix of lower and uppercase letters and numbers and if you’re allowed punctuation marks too. Always aim for at least 10 characters. Make sure you do not use the same password or Pin for more than one account.
- Online - limit the amount of personal information you display / input on Social Networking sites. In particular protect information such as your Date of Birth, your address etc. Regularly update your computer’s firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes. Up to 80% of cyber threats can be averted by doing this.
The British Bankers Association has published information on the things your Bank would never ask you to do in a bid to combat the growing threat of financial fraud. One such practice is for the criminal to call, posing as a member of bank staff or the police. These fraudsters make requests of you that a bank never would request in an unsolicited call eg:
- Call or email asking you for your PIN number or your online banking password
- Ask you to email or text your personal banking information
- Send an email with a link to a page for you to enter your online banking details
- Provide banking services through any apps that aren’t the bank’s official banking apps
- Ask you to carry out a test transaction online
- Send someone to your home to collect cash or your bank cards or ask you to authorise the transfer of your funds to a new account
Follow these steps to keep your identity safe and protect yourself from identity theft.