Identity fraud: How to protect yourself

Next time you crumple up an old gas bill and throw it in the bin, you may want to stop and think again.

This everyday activity could be leaving you vulnerable to identity theft and you could unwittingly be playing into the hands of cunning fraudsters.

Identity theft affects as many as 1.8million Britons a year and, worryingly, some people are even paid to rifle through your rubbish. We take a look at ways you can protect yourself from being the next ID victim…

How can my identity be stolen?

It may surprise you to know that fraudsters don’t need many of your personal details before they are able to steal your identity. Often, all they require is your full name, address, date and place of birth.

This can then be used to open bank accounts, obtain loans, credit cards and even get a passport and driving licence in your name. In more serious cases, money fraudulently obtained by identity thieves can be used to finance larger scams organised by criminal networks.

Fake emails and phone calls, stolen junk mail, raided dustbins and card skimming are all ways in which criminals can get their hands on your details.

How can I protect myself?

While it is not possible to completely prevent identity theft, there are a number of steps you can take to lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim.

At home:

  • Purchasing a shredder is one of the most simple and effective ways of protecting your identity. Shred any letters, documents, envelopes, debit and credit card receipts before you throw them out.
  • If you are moving house, set up a redirection service with Royal Mail in good time, so your mail doesn’t fall into a stranger’s hands.
  • If you think your mail may have been tampered with or you haven’t received something you were expecting, such as a cheque book or new debit card, contact Royal Mail and get it investigated.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements as regularly as you can. Look out for any suspicious payments that you don’t recognise.

Out and about:

  • It sounds obvious but keep an eye on your purse or wallet. Having your cash stolen is traumatic enough but if your cards are taken too, it’s very easy to have your identity stolen.
  • If you’re paying by card in a restaurant or shop, don’t let your card out of your sight. Insist that the payment machine is brought to you.
  • Beware of ‘shoulder surfing’ when you are in a public place and filling out an application form or entering your PIN number at an ATM machine.

Online/by phone:

  • Many identity thefts start with a phishing email. This is where your bank supposedly asks you to click on a link and confirm your bank details, but beware and delete immediately – your bank will never ask you to do this.
  • When making a purchase online, always check for the gold padlock symbol on the payment page and that the website begins ‘https’.
  • Ensure your computer is installed with up-to-date virus protection and a good firewall. Vary your passwords for different accounts.
  • Don’t give out any personal information to a company that calls you unexpectedly. 

What can I do if my identity is stolen?

It can be months before you discover that your identity has been stolen so it is vital that you take action as soon as you realise.

You should immediately contact your bank if the suspected fraud involves debit, credit cards, online banking or cheques. Also, go through your credit report to see if there are any loans or credit cards that you haven’t taken out.

It would also be useful to contact Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre. Once reported, it will issue you with a crime reference number. This will then be passed on to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau which is run by the police. 

While it isn’t  possible for the police to respond to each individual case, the information you provide will assist them in building up intelligence about fraud. 

Action Fraud can offer you practical advice and can be contacted on 0300 123 2040 or visit their website for more information.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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