The number of people falling victim to identity theft in the UK has risen by almost a third, new figures suggest, and criminals are increasingly using internet forums to buy and sell data.
They use the information to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards and commit fraud in other people’s names.
Fraud prevention agency Cifas said the number of victims rose by 31% to 32,058 in the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
We have all heard about identity theft and identity fraud – but what do those terms actually mean, what do they entail and how can you help to prevent them from happening to you?
Identity theft happens when a criminal gets hold of enough information about a person’s identity to commit identity fraud (see below). Such information could include your name, date of birth, occupation and current or past addresses – and more troublingly you don’t have to be alive for this to happen.
Once a criminal has enough information about a person they can then go and commit identity fraud. They will use that information to obtain goods or services in your name by deception. This could mean opening a bank account in your name or applying for credit cards, loans or state benefits. It could also mean applying for a passport or driving licence using your name.
If you are a victim of identity fraud then it could impact on your ability to obtain credit, could result in you becoming liable for debts you didn’t take out, or it could mean that all your money is taken from your bank accounts.
Clearly, any of these outcomes are quite frightening and especially if you are older – unfortunately the old and vulnerable do seem to be targeted the most by these criminals.
Prevention is better than cure
That is a saying that we are all familiar with. So, here’s our checklist of some of the things you can do to try and prevent yourself from becoming a victim:
- Always shred documents that contain any personal information before disposing of them. This is especially true of bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills and anything else that could be of worth to a criminal. We are all encouraged to recycle nowadays, but make sure you do it carefully if sensitive information is involved.
- Never leave your personal information in a car. How many ladies have left their handbags whilst they have just nipped out to the shops, or how many men have left their wallets in their jackets? This is manna from heaven to a thief!
- If you have a desktop, laptop, mobile phone or iPad or other tablet device then make sure you password protect it to prevent unauthorised use, or to prevent a criminal from being able to access it should you lose it.
- Check for any old and inactive bank account or credit card accounts that you may have – and if you find any then make sure you close them. A thief can get hold of your old credit cards, change the address and use this without your knowledge.
- Always check your bank account and credit card account transactions – thieves will often try to get a transaction of just a few pounds approved to start off with to make sure that your details are correct before then going for larger sums. If there is a transaction you don’t recognise get in touch with your bank or card provider and ask them to investigate it for you – it may be legitimate – but then again…!
- Never give out your personal information over the telephone unless it is you that initiated the phone call.
- Never answer unsolicited or unwanted e-mails, by doing so you verify your existence to the scammer who sent the email in the first place. Likewise, if you get an e-mail from someone you don’t know or if the subject is not one with which you are familiar then it’s best just to delete it.
So, be careful, be vigilant so you won’t become the next victim.
If you want to find out more about the current scams and frauds that are in circulation then visit the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk.