Keep your details safe

By at home

It can take just one act of carelessness or trickery and you’re a victim of identity fraud. Here’s how to avoid it.

Identity is personal information, important to each and every one of us. It’s particularly valuable for adults who need to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, finance, loans and mortgages, buy goods and services, or claim benefits. But sometimes you may not be the only person using these personal details. An identity can be stolen and used in a variety of ways, and unfortunately this sort of crime is on the rise. In 2007, the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (CIFAS), a UK fraud prevention service, identified and protected more than 65,000 victims of ID theft.

What is it?
‘Identity fraud is the use of a stolen identity in criminal activity, to obtain goods or services by deception,’ according to CIFAS. ‘This usually involves the use of stolen or forged identity documents such as a passport or driving license.’

Why it happens?
The main reason criminals steal identities is to take out loans, withdraw benefits, buy goods over the internet or through mail order, or apply for credit cards in someone else’s name. Other reasons why fraudsters steal identities include being able to drive if disqualified, to work in the UK, or to work with kids.

How does it happen?
All that fraudsters need to clone your identity are a few details, which can be found and stolen in a number of ways..

  • If you leave important documents in obvious places – your driving license in your car or your passport in your bedroom, say – your details are vulnerable and your identity can be easily snatched and copied.
  • Hoaxers can also get hold of personal information without going in to your home. They can simply watch you fill out an application form in a shop, or listen to you discussing personal details over the phone. They can even target discarded debit or credit card receipts you may leave near a cash machine.
  • Fraudsters can get hold of your personal details by intercepting post or raiding rubbish bins, which can provide lots of personal information. According to Experian, a UK credit report company, we still throw away important personal documents such as bank statements and utility bills without removing personal details.
  • A small ‘swiping’ device can capture your card details when you make a genuine transaction. Dodgy vendors then read and store these details and sell them on to criminals. Restaurants and petrol stations are often targets for this device.
  • Fraudsters contact victims directly and trick them into giving personal information. You might receive a spoof letter or phone call claiming you’re owed money and asking for account information, or a ‘researcher’ might stop you in the street. So make sure you never respond or pass on any personal details.

How can you avoid becoming a victim?
There are various measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim..

  • Shred any document that displays your name, address or other personal details. This includes bank statements, debit or credit card transaction receipts, utility bills, pre-filled application forms, even envelopes or letterheads showing an address. These are all potentially useful to a fraudster – they will actually rifle through your rubbish and abuse all your details if you don’t discard of them properly.

    We love the Acco Rexel shredders (www.rexelshredders.co.uk) such as the Style Plus Shredder, which you can use both in the office and at home. It can shred seven sheets at a time in confetti-cut strips; it even shreds credit cards, and accepts staples and paper clips. Priced at £39.95, it’s available from John Lewis, Robert Dyas, Amazon.co.uk and other leading office products suppliers.

  • Never give away personal data, such as your personal identification number (PIN) or passwords to anyone who calls or emails you, claiming they need it.
  • Check your bank and/or credit card statements regularly, and if any transactions have been made that you don’t recognise, no matter how small, report them to your card issuer immediately.
  • Never disclose or write down your PIN number or online passwords.
  • Keep all your important documents such as your passport, your driving license, and birth and marriage certificates in a safe place (though preferably not all together). They are just as valuable to a criminal as jewellery and other expensive goods, and can be easily sold on to an identity fraudster.
  • Make sure you sign the back of new debit or credit cards as soon as your receive them.
  • If you move home, consider using a Royal Mail Redirection service for some time to ensure all post is forwarded to your new address.

What if it happens to you?
If you discover that you’ve become a victim of fraud, act quickly. If any of your cards or cheques are lost or stolen, you should inform the issuer as soon as possible, and follow up telephone calls with written notification. Likewise, if you receive bills or statements addressed to you but you know don’t belong to you, contact the organisations concerned to alert them of the fraud.

Finally, if you see transactions on your statements that aren’t yours, contact your bank right away. In all these instances, report the fraud directly to your bank or your card company, who will verify and investigate the crime, and report it to the police.

What’s being done?
The Home Office is taking action to prevent fraud and to track down the fraudsters. This includes spending more money to implement recommendations from the fraud review and using extra resources for fraud policing in London.

This year, the Government has assigned £29 million to put into place recommendations made in a cross-Government fraud review. A new fraud strategic authority will lead the battle to fight fraud in the UK, and a new fraud-reporting centre will improve police intelligence about fraudsters targeting the UK.

Both the Home Office and the Corporation of London have contributed over £1.12m this year to help the City of London police expand its fraud squad, and tackle fraud in London and the South East.

If you discover that you’ve become a victim of fraud, act quickly. If any of your cards or cheques are lost or stolen, you should inform the issuer as soon as possible, and follow up telephone calls with written notification. Likewise, if you receive bills or statements addressed to you but you know don’t belong to you, contact the organisations concerned to alert them of the fraud.

Finally, if you see transactions on your statements that aren’t yours, contact your bank right away. In all these instances, report the fraud directly to your bank or your card company, who will verify and investigate the crime, and report it to the police.

What’s being done?
The Home Office is taking action to prevent fraud and to track down the fraudsters. This includes spending more money to implement recommendations from the fraud review and using extra resources for fraud policing in London.

This year, the Government has assigned £29 million to put into place recommendations made in a cross-Government fraud review. A new fraud strategic authority will lead the battle to fight fraud in the UK, and a new fraud-reporting centre will improve police intelligence about fraudsters targeting the UK.

Both the Home Office and the Corporation of London have contributed over £1.12m this year to help the City of London police expand its fraud squad, and tackle fraud in London and the South East.


Words: Carly Rigley | Photographs: getty, shutterstock

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