This week I asked my Twitter followers if any of them had ever had their identity stolen.
To my surprise the first reply I got was from friends at the website Thisismoney.com who pointed me to an article they had done about ID theft from money and economics journalists there. It just shows that even people who are really clued-up about money and consumer issues can easily have their identity stolen.
So often you don’t even know it’s happening. I’ve certainly had money taken out of my account through fraud. One time it was simply because someone managed to double-swipe my bank card and used the details to buy mobile phone time. The only way I found out about it was by checking my bank statements (see why it’s SO important to do that regularly?).
Another time someone vandalised an ATM (though not noticeably) that I used and they got my debit card details and passcode that way. Happily, I was so suspicious of the dodgy-looking character hanging about near the ATM when I used the card, I phoned the bank immediately and they stopped the card, though not before they had taken out £80 (which I got back).
This week is National Identity Fraud Prevention Week and new figures from the National Fraud Authority [NFA] estimate that every year in the UK identity fraud costs more than £2.7billion and affects over 1.8million people. At least £1.9billion of this is the amount gained by the fraudster. That means that on average, fraudsters gain over £1000 from every stolen identity.
Stolen identities are used by fraudsters to get themselves a wide variety of goods, services and benefits in the victim’s name; to fraudulently open bank accounts and get loans and credit in their name. Nasty!
It’s not just about stealing money either. Apparently criminals also use false or stolen identities to help them commit a wide range of crimes, from evading detection by law enforcement to enabling people-trafficking and terrorism!
Criminals usually try and get important documents such as birth certificates, passports and driving licences. However, they also look for other information which helps steal your identity such as utility bills, online passwords, account numbers and personal identity information which many people still put on social networking sites. Don’t do it! Watch carefully what you put on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Here are the main ways you can stop yourself having your Identity stolen:
- Don’t throw out anything with your name, address or financial details without shredding it first.
- Check your bank and credit card statements carefully and report anything suspicious to the financial institution concerned.
- If you’re expecting a statement and it doesn’t arrive, tell your bank or credit card company.
- Get regular copies of your credit report from a credit reference agency, or, better, get access to your credit report for free for a whole month here.
- Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti virus software installed.
- Make sure you use all the privacy settings available on social networking sites and don’t put much personal information up there.
- If you move house, always get Royal Mail to redirect your post.
- Don’t ignore bills, invoices or receipts for things you haven’t bought or services you haven’t asked for – contact the company immediately.
- When you register to vote, tick the box to say you don’t want to be included in the edited electoral register – that means your details can’t be sold on.
If you’ve been a victim of fraud, however embarrassed you feel for being made a fool (and we all do!) make sure you report it. Go to Actionfraud.org.uk or call 0300 123 2040. By working together and speaking out against fraud we can make the UK more hostile to fraudsters and criminals.
Yes! Be like the good citizens in Kensington, London who attacked smash-and-grab raiders at a jewellery store. Don’t let criminals get away with it.