The Home Office is at present highlighting the increasing cost of Identity Theft to the population of the UK. Current estimates put it at £1.9 billion per year or £35 per year for each person in the country.
Identity theft is the term used to describe the process whereby a person steals personal details from an individual and uses that data criminally to obtain loans or credit cards or even mortgages. In some instances the details of company directors have been used to obtain loans in the name of the companies.
There are several very simple steps that people can take to reduce or eliminate the risks, the majority of which are commonsense and don’t cost anything. Most of us regularly receive bills and statements through the door. Each contains lots of information that is very useful to the fraudster. It is important to look after this information.
- Keep your personal data safe. Don’t carry your pin number on a piece of paper with your card. If you must write it down make it look like a phone number.
- Make sure that you have signed the back of all of your credit cards.
- If you lose a card cancel it immediately. Waiting until you get home could cost you money!
- Check your statements regularly. It’s not just single large transactions that a fraudster uses. Smaller regular debits, sometimes as little as £10 per week quickly add up.
- Don’t disclose personal information over the phone. No bone fide bank or building society will ever ring you up unsolicited and ask you for your account details especially your password or account numbers or the verification numbers on your credit cards (this is the three digit number on the reverse of your card). If you think you do need to disclose this information, ask the person for an extension number and call them back via the companies switchboard (get that number from the telephone book). Don’t worry about offending the caller. If they are legitimate they should know better than to ask.
- Never just throw personal data away. Almost any document with your name and address on can be presented as proof of identity to obtain loans etc. Things like bank statements, credit card bills, utility bills and mobile phone bills should be destroyed properly not just ripped in half and thrown in the bin. Consider investing in a paper shredder. They are widely available and inexpensive.
Online security is also important if you are using internet banking. Probably one of the most important rules is not to reply to unsolicited e mails that ask you for personal data, especially passwords or account numbers. If you are in any doubt whether an e mail is genuine don’t reply to it.
Make sure your passwords are memorable but not obvious. If everyone knows you have a dog called Spot then it is not a good idea to use that as a password. Don’t share your passwords around. You might not tell anyone what it is but can you be so sure about anyone else? Don’t write your passwords down.
CIFAS - The UK's Fraud Prevention Service
Consider registering with the CIFAS protective registration scheme. Registration on this scheme adds an additional layer of protection to your accounts. For instance, if anyone was attempting to obtain a loan in your name you would be contacted by CIFAS and asked to verify the application. CIFAS are a commercial organisation and will charge a small fee for this service. CIFAS can be contacted by telephone on 0330 100 0180.
What to do if you believe you are the victim of identity theft:
- Contact your Bank or Building Society or Card issuer immediately. Explain why you think this may be the case and follow their advice. You may need to change all of your passwords and PIN codes as soon as you can. The sooner you contact them the less it will cost you!
- Report the matter to a police officer or at your local police station.
Further advice and information can be found at www.identitytheft.org.uk