Identity theft can have serious and lasting consequences for victims, so it is important to take proper steps to protect yourself wherever possible.
Whilst perpetrators of identity crimes rarely take the victim’s physical possessions, stealing a person’s personal information can have financial consequences for the victim. For example, the victim may be left with thousands of pounds worth of debts in their name, even though they have not made any purchases at all. Even if you are able to prove that you are not responsible for the debts which are in your name, it can take a lot of time and energy to erase these debts from your credit history. This means that it can be much harder to do certain things, such as getting a loan or a mortgage. It can even make it hard for you to successfully apply for a mobile phone contract!
The longer that your personal details are being used for, the harder it can be to rectify the problem. These are just a few of the potential lasting consequences of identity theft / identity fraud. Here are some suggestions to help you to protect yourself from identity theft:
Keeping your personal documents safe
Letters from companies that you hold an account with often contain personal information. If you need to throw any documents away that include personal information then you should make sure that you dispose of them in a safe and secure way. For most people, the safest way to dispose of their documents is to shred them. Once you have shredded your documents, you can take the extra precaution of spreading the shredded documents across multiple bin bags.
If you are disposing of an old credit or debit card, you should cut your card into pieces, making sure that you cut through the signature strip, the numbers and the chip in the card.
Some people who have a wood burner also choose to burn documents that they no longer require. If you decide to burn old documents, you should only do so in a safe environment. Do not burn anything which is made of plastic, such as old credit cards or store cards.
If a company asks to see a copy of your bank statements, make sure that you are aware of what that company does and why they need your bank statement. It is very rare for private companies to ask for copies of your bank statements, even when they are discussing affordability and financing with you. However, government departments (such as the benefits department or a social housing provider) may need to see this information. If you do have to give your documents to a provider it is their responsibility to keep that information safe and secure, as per the Data Protection Act.
Keeping your information safe online and when using social media
The rise of social media has actually made it much easier for criminals to commit identity fraud, because people are sharing their information more freely. Many social media users are not aware that the information which they are sharing could put them at risk.
Think carefully about the information that you share on social media, and make sure that strangers cannot see your telephone number, home address, date of birth or other personal details. If you already have any of these details on display, take a moment to remove them as soon as possible.
If you are using “apps” on Facebook, check to see which pieces of your information that people have access to. Some online quizzes and games often ask you for permission to access your personal information before they let you play. Remember that this is just like sharing your information with people that you do not know at all.
Phishing emails and calls
One of the biggest threats to your data in the Twenty-first century comes from phishing emails. These are emails which seek to get your details by any means necessary. They have been purposefully designed to look like emails from genuine sources, such as your bank or from online payment processors. They will ask you to input your personal information in order to complete a certain process.
In many cases, these emails will claim that your account has been compromised in some way, and that you must log-in to your account in order to clarify whether you were responsible for the suspicious transactions. Users are then directed to a site which looks like their bank or whatever site the email allegedly came from. However, when users input their data, the data is harvested by the fraudster.
It is very important that you remain vigilant if you receive any unexpected emails or phone calls from companies pretending to be your bank. Look carefully at spelling and grammar, as poor spelling and grammar often indicate that an email is a phishing email. You should also look at where all of the links lead to. You should always be aware of the domain suffix (.co.uk, .org, .net etc), as the URL may be identical to the real website url, except for the domain name suffix. The url may even look identical at first glance but looking more closely you may spot it is actually spelled slightly differently. Similar characters may also have been used in the url to try to make it even more difficult to spot, such as the number “0” in place of the letter “o”, or vice versa.
Report any suspicious emails to the company which is being impersonated as well as to your email service provider. It is worth noting that no bank in the United Kingdom will ever ask for your PIN number, password or the answer to your security question in an unsolicited email, letter or phone call. If you receive a call and you are not sure if it is genuine, hang up and call the company from another phone number.
Redirect your mail
If you are moving house, you need to make sure that you arrange for all of your mail to be sent to your new address. Even something as innocuous seeming as a gift catalogue can be used against you, because the people who handle your mail may be able to use your name and former address to set up store cards with your details.
Cancel everything that you don’t care about and redirect everything that is important to you. If you realise that you have not had a bank statement or another bill for a while at your new address, then you should get back in contact with the company to check that they have got your new details registered properly.
How to keep your passwords and PINs safe
Your passwords and PIN codes are very important for keeping your details safe, so it is important that no one other than you knows what they are. Whenever you are using a device (such as an ATM/cash machine), make sure that no one is standing near to you or watching over your shoulder as you type in the numbers, and always try to conceal the numbers your are inputting. You should also be careful when you are typing in your chip and pin number in shops, petrol stations, etc.
In terms of keeping your password safe online, it is important that you choose a password with the right level of complexity. A good password will have upper and lower case letters and numbers, and don’t use a unique password for any sites / services you might sign up with.
You should regularly carry out security scans on your computer to make sure that no spyware exists which may be harvesting your passwords from your computer.
A good anti-virus should be used for extra protection, and there are free ones available for home use such as Avast. There are also free Malware scanners available which will scan your computer for Malware and then remove it if you instruct it to. One such software is Malwarebytes.
Keeping your plastic cards safe
Make sure that you always know where your cards are. If you lose your card, make sure that you call up the company which holds your account to cancel it straight away. The longer that the card is missing for, the more time that someone may have to rack up debts in your name.
Do not let people take the card out of your sight when they are performing a transaction, because they could use this opportunity to copy down your details. If they say that your card has failed to process or the transaction has been declined, ask them for the receipt from the card machine which proves this. This is also useful for your records, in case the transaction has accidentally gone through twice. You should check all receipts carefully before you leave and make sure that you query any transactions which do not look familiar to you.
Check your statements and your credit
If you do fall victim to identity theft, it is important that you find out about it as soon as possible. Regularly checking your bank statements will help you to identify whether any suspicious transactions have been made from your account/s. If you spot any transactions on your account which you do not recognise, you should contact your bank immediately to discuss this with them.
You should also make a point of checking your credit score or your full credit report. If your score is low but you are not aware of any personal debts, then you should check your full report to see if there are any black marks on your credit rating that you were not aware of.