Becoming a victim of identity fraud can be a stressful and traumatic experience, particularly if you receive bills for debts you’re unaware of and the impact it can have on your credit file. That’s why we’re discussing what it is and how you can protect yourself from the fraudsters.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when your personal details are stolen which can happen in many ways, including:
- Stealing documents from your bin
- Stealing your bank cards or ID from your purse or wallet
- Pretending to be a company or your bank to obtain details
- Using your social media profiles
What is identity fraud?
Identity fraud is when a fraudster who has stolen someone’s identity then uses it for their own personal advantage, often for financial gain and at the expense of the person whose identity has been stolen. They can use the victim’s identity to:
- Open a bank account or take control of the victim’s account
- Purchase goods and sign up to contracts, such as a phone contract or car finance
- Obtain credit cards or loans in the victim’s name
How do the fraudsters steal your identity?
There are many ways in which a fraudster can steal your identity, including something as simple as taking documents from your rubbish bin or shared mailboxes, although this rarely happens these days. The two main ways are usually by tricking the victim into telling them their personal information or by using software that steals the information for them.
If a fraudster wants to get the potential victim to tell them personal information to gain access to their identity, this fraud will often be done via the phone. The fraudster may pretend to be from a reputable company or your bank and deceive you into thinking you need to provide them with some details, often for security reasons. The details could include your bank details, your personal information, such as name and address, and passwords.
Increasingly, fraudsters are taking advantage of social media. Sharing personal details, like your date of birth, address, and phone number for competitions or on a public profile can make you vulnerable. Even something as simple as a quiz to find out your favourite colour or film can catch you out, as these are often security questions. Take a look at this video from Cifas Fraud Prevention to see just how easy it is for fraudsters to gather your personal information from your social media profile.
Don't make it easy for identity fraudsters - amend your settings to private and limit the amount of personal details you publish.
A more complex way is when the fraudsters uses software to steal your identity. They can either do this by convincing you to click a link via a text message or email. The link will often direct you to a fake website that will encrypt your device. Or they can get you to the fake website by manipulating the web traffic to redirect you from the website you typed into the browser. This way, you think you’re on the legit website, but instead, you’re on a copycat version. This method is more difficult to detect, which is why it’s important to know how to stay safe when shopping online.
How to avoid becoming a victim of identity fraud
To prevent becoming a victim of identity fraud, it’s important to make yourself aware of the scams that the criminals will attempt to steal your identity. Here are a few tips to protect yourself:
- Always shred any documents with personal information on it
- Use multiple and secure passwords
- If you’re called out of the blue, don’t provide any sensitive information
- Don’t click on any links or attachments on unexpected emails or text messages
- Open your mail. Banks don’t send out promotional credit cards so if you’ve not applied for one, contact the issuer immediately. Similarly, if you get a bill or statement you don’t recognise contact the firm to get it resolved as quickly as possible.
- Monitor your credit report so you will be made aware of a new account that is opened in your name
- If applying for a job, make sure that the company you’re applying for exists and the person you’re dealing with works for them before you provide all your personal details and/or identity documents.
Check out our guide for more ways on how to protect yourself from a scam which could lead you to becoming a victim to further fraud, such as identity theft.
What to do if you become a victim of identity fraud
Most people won’t realise that they have become a victim of identity fraud until a bill arrives for goods that they haven’t purchased or a correspondence from a bank account that they haven’t opened. The most important thing to do as soon as you find out is report it.
You should report any fraudulent activity to the relevant organisation depending on the type of fraud that has been committed. Here are a few examples:
- Bank or credit card fraud – Contact your bank, credit card company, or any other creditors if you believe one of your accounts has been hacked. Your account may have to be temporarily blocked until it is secure again.
- Mobile network provider - If your calls and text messages aren’t going through, fraudsters may have deactivated your SIM so they can use your number to receive one-time passcodes from your bank as part of the hack.
- Unexpected bills - If an account has been opened or goods have been purchased in your name, you should inform the company so that they can investigate.
- Benefits fraud - If someone else is using your personal information to obtain government benefits then you should report it to the Department for Work and Pensions.
- Credit bureaux – If you’ve been a victim of identity fraud make sure your credit file is corrected to remove the fraudulent information – it may link addresses you’re not aware of and can impact future credit applications.
Depending on the type of fraud, you can also contact your local police force.
In all cases of fraud, you can report to Action Fraud either online 24/7 or by contacting them by phone. Their fraud and cybercrime specialists will provide you with help and advice concerning the fraud. When you report to Action Fraud you will receive a police crime reference number. Reports taken are passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Action Fraud does not investigate the cases and cannot advise you on the progress of a case.
It’s also worth remembering the importance of reporting missing items. If you lose something that could be used to steal your identity, such as your bank card or passport, you must report it as soon as possible.