Here are 8 tips to keep you (and your passwords) safe online and protected against identity fraud
According to Cifas (a fraud prevention organisation) there were nearly 173,000 recorded cases of identity fraud last year; the highest level since records began. Identity fraud happens when a fraudster finds out enough information about you that they can pretend to be you. This means they can open accounts, get hold of official documents, buy things or even take out credit in your name. All without your permission. But you can take steps to make sure it doesn't happen to you.
1. Make sure you protect your technology
When you're shopping online, you're going to be entering in sensitive data such as card numbers and addresses. So it's important to make sure no one can get hold of that.
You should make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes installed on all of your devices, and that you always keep them updated.
You should also try to avoid using public Wi-Fi networks to access online banking or other sensitive accounts, as someone could breach the security. If a website requires personal information, check that the web address has 'https' in the URL rather than 'http', as this suggests the site is secure.
It’s also a good idea to keep your devices, software and apps up-to-date as these may have enhanced security features. (So no more ignoring those update notifications on your phone for weeks on end).
2. Use different passwords for every account and make them hard to guess
We can never stress enough the importance of your password security. It can be a bit of a headache, especially if you’re forgetful with passwords, but having a weak password can leave you really exposed to fraud.
You should never share or write down your PIN or any of your passwords. On top of this you should avoid using the same password across multiple accounts, and avoid using obvious terms such as your mother’s maiden name.
Ideally, your password should be a complex sentence, with a mix of lower and upper cases, numbers and symbols. For example, a combination such as ‘1lovemyCredit5core!’ makes the job of a fraudster much harder.
Using a random string of different types of characters is another way to create a more secure password, although these are trickier to remember.
3. Use a password manager in your internet browser
If you have trouble remembering or thinking up complex passwords, that’s where a secure password manager can come in handy. Both Safari and Chrome have these built in and they will securely store your login details so that you can have more secure passwords without the stress of forgetting them.
If you are keeping passwords stored on your computer, setting up two-step verification makes it even more secure. This is where you use a password and then another step to gain access to your accounts, such as by getting a code sent to your phone which you use as the second step of log-in.
If you turn this on it can help protect you even if someone has your password, as you’ll be aware if someone else is trying to access your account, and they won’t have access to the second step of the verification process.
4. Use a credit card when you're shopping online
Credit cards have added purchase protection that debit cards don't offer. If you buy anything online that costs between £100 and £30,000 your purchase is protected under the Consumer Credit Act. This means if that perfect gift you ordered from that odd looking site never shows up, you won't be left footing the bill.
You may even be able to claim for a faulty or damaged product. But remember that any extra charges, such as delivery charges, won't be included in the refund.
5. Your details are valuable – don’t leave them lying around
It's important to remember that identity fraud doesn't just happen online. If a fraudster wants to steal your identity to defraud you, then they need to know a range of details about you. This could be financial information such as your bank account details, or even your most basic information - your name, your address and your date of birth – can leave you exposed to fraud.
Whenever you’re getting rid of any paperwork that contains personal data, make sure you shred it properly. Even things that aren’t as personal as a bank statement, such as marketing brochures, could be used by a fraudster. This is because they may still have some of your details on them, such as an address or store account number.
Make sure you’re also careful with your post. If you move house, remember to redirect your post straight away to help stop the personal information in your mail falling into the wrong hands.
6. Watch out for potential scams
It’s not always obvious that you’re being conned by a fraudster, especially if you get a call or email from someone who sounds official – like the bank or even the police.
Action Fraud advise that “No government body would ever call asking for personal bank details, offer money back on bank charges, credit card charges or mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance or to send money via Western Union."
As a rule, you should never give out your personal information to cold-callers on the phone or via email.
Always delete phishing emails and avoid clicking on any of the links or attachments. Usually, if something in your inbox looks dodgy, there’s a high chance it is.
7. Avoid oversharing on social networking sites
It can be tempting to put all of your personal information on social media. Especially if you like lots of messages on your birthday. But it’s really not worth the risk. There’s always a chance your profile can be seen by anyone, including potential fraudsters – no matter what security you have on your account.
Avoid publicly displaying details such as your email address, where you live, or your date of birth on social networking sites.
It’s also a good idea to regularly check your privacy settings on your accounts and to not befriend anyone you don’t know.
8. Keep an eye out for signs of fraud
Once you’ve done everything to protect yourself against fraud, you should always continue to keep an eye out for it. So if it does happen to you, you can nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.
Here are some things to keep an eye on
Check your bank statements and make sure you recognise everything on there. If you don’t, contact your bank or lender straight away. This also applies if you start to receive bank statements in the post or new credit cards that you weren’t expecting - it could be a sign someone has opened an account in your name.
If you’re expecting mail that doesn’t arrive – particularly if it’s from a bank or lender – there’s a chance someone has got their hands on your mail. This could be innocent, or it could be a sign of fraud. You should always check with the sender that it’s definitely been sent.
Your credit report is one of the quickest ways to see if someone is trying to commit identity fraud. This is because if someone is trying to take out credit in your name, a credit search will appear on your credit report. (ClearScore customers can find a list of their credit searches in the Searches section of your account). If you spot a credit search you don’t recognise, check with the named lender first then report it as quickly as possible to Action Fraud.