Identity theft is when a criminal uses your personal information – such as your name, address and date of birth – to create another “you”. They can then open credit accounts, borrow money, claim benefits, and even commit crimes in your name.
If your identity is stolen, you may find there are debts in your name that you know nothing about. This can affect your ability to get a mortgage, loan or credit card, take out a pay-monthly mobile phone contract, or even get certain types of job.
How does identity theft occur?
There are a number of ways identity theft can happen:
Theft or robbery
If you have your bag or wallet stolen it may contain enough information for the thief to steal your identity. For example, it might contain your driving licence, credit card and documents which include your address.
Cold-calling (or “vishing”)
Fraudsters may call you pretending to be a genuine business, such as your bank or internet provider, and trick you into giving away personal information such as your date of birth, passwords and address.
Emails (or “phishing”)
Phishing is a method of trying to gather personal information using deceptive emails and websites. The emails normally appear to be from a trusted company, asking you to click a link to validate or confirm your information.
Hacking is when criminals use software to hack into your computer, social media, email or smartphone to access your accounts or personal information.
There have been a number of high profile data breaches where customer information has been stolen from a company database.
This is when a fraudster impersonates you to a mobile phone network and obtains a replacement SIM card for your phone number. He or she can then hijack calls and texts and receive verification codes for online banking transactions.
How can you spot identity theft?
There are a number of signs that suggest your identity might have been stolen:
- Your passport or driving licence are lost or stolen
- Mail you’re expecting fails to arrive
- Your bank or credit card statement includes transactions you don’t recognise
- You receive details of new credit agreements or contracts you didn’t apply for
- New credit agreements or accounts you don’t recognise appear on your credit record
- You receive bills or receipts for goods or services you didn’t buy
- You’re rejected for a mortgage, credit card, loan, or mobile phone contract, despite not having any past credit problems
- You receive letters or visits from bailiffs or debt collectors for debts that are not yours
- Your mobile phone suddenly doesn’t have a signal for a prolonged period of time
How can I prevent identity fraud happening to me?
Don’t worry – there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.
The key is to prevent fraudsters getting their hands on your identity documents or information; so keep your passport and driving licence in a safe place and shred any utility bills or bank statements you no longer need.
If you move house, contact all the organisations you have relationships with to tell them your new address. Sign up to the Royal Mail’s mail direction service for at least six months.
Be careful about the information you post on social media too. Fraudsters can combine public information such as your address and date of birth with personal details, such as your first school, favourite band and pet’s name, to guess your passwords.
What should you do if you think you’re at risk of identity theft?
If you think you’re at extra risk of identity theft or fraud, but nothing has happened yet, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.
CIFAS Protective Registration
If you’re worried your personal details have been stolen or you deal with an organisation that has had a data breach, signing up for CIFAS Protective Registration service can reduce the risk of having your identity stolen. Once registered, CIFAS places a flag alongside your name and personal details in its National Fraud Database.
Organisations that are signed up as members of the database will then carry out extra checks if someone (including you) applies for credit in your name.
Credit report monitoring
If you sign up to MoneySuperMarket’s Credit Monitor, you will be alerted when a search is made against your credit record or an account opened with your details.
HM Land Registry Property Alert Service
Property fraud is when someone pretends to be you and uses your stolen identity details to mortgage or sell your house.
If you own a property you can sign up to the Land Registry’s Property Alert Service. Once registered, you will receive email alerts when certain activity – such as a mortgage application being made – occurs on your property.
You can also put a restriction on your property so activity will not be allowed until a solicitor or conveyancer confirms it’s been made by you.