In 2016, figures from fraud prevention service Cifas indicated that identity theft rose by 57% in 2015 – 2016. In the UK, 148,000+ people became victims of this digital crime, compared to 94,500 the year before. Fraudsters are increasingly able to target people due to the wealth of information we share online, particularly on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And the motivation is high – as banks and other financial institutions become more and more able to spot a fake identity, cybercriminals have more need to steal a real one. So, how do you protect yourself against identity theft?
Adjust your privacy settings
Social media is an absolute goldmine for identity thieves, particularly as platforms like Facebook keep changing privacy settings and leaving personal data unwittingly revealed. Regularly check your privacy settings across all the social platforms that you use and make sure that you’re not revealing more than you want to. If you want to ensure only your friends can see your date of birth, address and surname etc then be sure that your privacy settings reflect that.
Strip back your online profiles
A simple way to avoid being a victim of online identity theft is not to put key information out into the digital world in the first place. According to the experts, the data that an identity thief wants more than anything else is full name, date of birth, address and financial details. With that they can do almost anything.
Check your bank account, credit cards and credit report regularly
You can stop an identity theft in its tracks with good financial management. Regularly checking bank and credit card accounts will ensure you spot any unusual activity and if you’re on top of your credit report you’ll be able to see any searches carried out for loans or finance you didn’t apply for.
If you move house, set up post redirect for at least a year
It’s amazing how many credit cards, bank statements and bills can be sent to the wrong address even after you’ve tried to change it.
Always choose strong passwords
Rather unbelievably, a lot of us still choose passwords such as “password” or “123456” – and are then surprised when an identity thief finds this easy to guess. Avoid using any personal details in your password (e.g. birthday or names) and instead choose something totally at random. Opt for a long password – minimum 8-10 characters – and use a mix of upper and lower case, symbols and numbers.
Don’t give out personal details over the phone
Most banks and companies now state specifically that they won’t ask for sensitive data over the phone. So, if you get a call out of the blue from your bank and the first thing they ask for is account number and sort code be wary. Instead of handing over the information say you’ll call them back and then do this from a different phone (landline or mobile) – and if you don’t feel comfortable then just don’t give them any information at all.
Monitor images of you online
It’s amazing how simple it is to glean personal information from images. For example, your phone number and post code might be on the back of your dog’s identity tag. Or you might leave a bankcard on the table during a dinner party that is photographed by a friend and posted on Facebook. Pay close attention to the images of you that appear online and remove any that reveal too much.
Shred important documents
Make sure that anything that has personal information on goes through the shredder before it hits the recycling bin.
Be cautious about links in email and messages
“Phishing” scams rely on people clicking on links distributed via email, message or social media messaging. Often these links seem to come from someone you know and can look totally innocuous. In reality, they may contain malware that allows a third party to gather information about you, from tracking laptop keystrokes, to your email passwords.
Be wary of missed deliveries
If you’re expecting a new credit card, a new bank card or a statement and it doesn’t get to you then tell the bank straight away.
And why are all these measures so necessary? Well because the cost of fraud is high in the UK – around £1.1bn per year. For you personally, if a fraudster has your identity they can:
Open a bank account
Obtain a passport
Set up fake social media profiles
Apply for a credit card or loan
Take over your accounts
Get a mobile phone contract
….all in your name, leaving you to deal with the consequences.
Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley