How Can You Protect Yourself From ‘Identity Theft’?

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With identity theft and the resulting identity fraud becoming more widespread, we look at how to spot the signs that you may be a victim, the effects on victims, plus how to reduce the risk of having your identity stolen and used for fraud. 

What Are Identity Theft and Identity Fraud?

Identity theft is when personal details of a living or deceased person are stolen, e.g., name, date of birth, current or previous addresses, with the intention to commit identity fraud.  

Identity fraud is when those stolen details are used to commit fraud, i.e. to obtain goods or services by deception. ID fraud may also take the form of a money-laundering scheme, e.g. goods purchased with the victim’s money, delivered to a person involved in the scam, and then sold on. 

How Big Is The Problem?

There were 226,000 reported cases of identity fraud in the UK in 2021, with the most hit age group for identity fraud being 60+. In fact, 180,000 instances of fraudulent conduct were filed in the first six months of 2021, an 11 per cent increase from the previous year. 

How Are Personal Details Stolen?

There is a variety of ways in which identity details are stolen, with the main ones including: 

– Common theft, e.g. having personal possessions stolen from pockets, bags, a property, or via snatching incidents, thereby giving criminals access to different forms of your ID. 

– Cold calling/vishing. This involves fraudsters making phone calls, pretending to be a legitimate business, and then trying to extract personal details and other financial information during the call. 

– Hacking. This could be criminals hacking into a computer or phone to steal details. 

– Phishing. Fraudsters often send emails, SMS (smishing), or instant messages made to look like trusted companies have sent them. These contain a link to a fake website designed to steal details or an attachment that downloads malware onto the victim’s computer. 

– Malware, including keylogging programs, downloaded by emails or on compromised or bogus websites

– Data breaches, e.g. directly from a data breach, or details purchased from criminal forums on the dark web, and/or shared from other data breaches, or in private exchanges between rogue employees and their handlers or associates. 

– From intercepted or stolen statements, e.g. bank statements and other personal correspondence, or personal paperwork recovered from bins. 

– From over-sharing on social media

– Shoulder surfing while paying for goods or at an ATM. 

– From card details saved on websites

How To Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen And Used For Fraud

Several signs to look out for could indicate that your identity has been stolen (and perhaps used for fraud) or that you may become a victim of identity theft. These include: 

– If you have had important documents stolen, e.g. a passport or driving licence, or bank or utility bills and statements don’t arrive as they usually should. 

– Unexplained items/purchases appear on bank or credit card statements. 

– If an application for state benefits is made, but you are informed you are already claiming. 

– Bills or receipts for goods or services arrive that you have not asked for or used. 

– Your credit rating suddenly goes down, signalled by a refusal of financial services, credit cards, or loans.  

– Letters arrive from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that aren’t yours. 

The Effects of ID Theft and ID Fraud

The effects of ID fraud resulting from ID theft can last months or years and can include: 

– Psychological and emotional effects lead to anxiety, a feeling of violation, disturbed sleep, a sense of powerlessness, grief, and possibly even suicidal feelings from the crime and the financial worries it may have caused. 

– Financial difficulties may lead to the need to borrow money (from family or banks and payday loans or credit cards), which could lead to deeper financial difficulties. 

– Symptoms of physical illness, e.g. high blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue, muscle aches, and more. 

Recovering From ID Theft And Fraud

Recovering from ID theft and fraud can involve: 

– Contacting banks, credit card companies, the police, and Action Fraud as soon as the fraud is discovered. Once credit card companies are informed, it can take as little as one month to recover the stolen credit. 

– The need to provide proof to dispute fraudulent bank accounts, loans, and other identity theft. This can involve tracing and detailing your steps at the time of the fraud, e.g. using Google Maps, your calendar, phone, email records, and more. This can sometimes take months or even years. 

– The need to make a list of all banks, loan companies, credit cards, online stores used, and PayPal accounts to check and study them all for any anomalies, both for the time of the fraud itself and going forward. 

– The need to incur more costs by taking legal advice and help from a professional knowledgeable about (or specialising in) ID theft and fraud matters. 

How To Prevent ID Theft and ID Fraud

Prevention is better than cure, and several steps can be taken to reduce the risk of falling victim to ID theft and fraud. These include: 

– Avoid over-sharing or sharing personal details on social media, and avoid social media quizzes that could reveal personal details. In addition, check social media privacy settings to ensure that only trusted people can view your posts and be looking for unusual friend requests or messages. 

– Be wary of any phishing attempts. For example, don’t click on unsolicited or suspicious emails (or SMS or messages), click on or download any attachments, or click on any links in them (which could lead to phishing sites or malware downloads). Also, be wary of ‘vishing’ phone calls and avoid giving personal or account details to people who have called you. If in doubt, ditch the call and phone back on what you know to be the legitimate phone number. 

– Regularly check bank and credit card activity and statements for any unusual activity. 

– Regularly change passwords and keep all antivirus up to date, as well as patching and security updates. Also, ensure all devices, including the phone, have locking set up, security verification, and trusted antivirus. 

– Immediately report any missing statements or personal documents that were expected yet have not arrived, plus avoid putting personal records out with the rubbish and shred them instead. 

– Be careful and vigilant at ATMs or other places where ‘shoulder surfing’ could occur. 

– Immediately report any theft of personal property that could have ID information, lost or stolen cards, or similar. 

– If moving house, ensure that the new address is given for all personal letters or that a forwarding service (e.g., Royal Mail) is set up. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Identity theft and ID fraud can happen to anyone because they are a significant and growing problem; there has been a significant increase since 2021. The best protection is taking a ‘less is more’ approach to shared personal details, regularly checking accounts and changing passwords (and not password sharing), and generally being aware of threats like phishing, vishing, and smishing. Getting into good habits such as shredding documents with personal details and quickly reporting anything out of the ordinary could also help reduce the risks we all face from increasingly bold and inventive criminals using more technically advanced methods.