With identity fraud cases reaching a record high last year, protecting your information is more important now than ever. So how can you protect yourself?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking only careless people fall victim to scams. But with company data breaches on the rise, and scammers becoming increasingly sophisticated, the risk is only getting bigger.
In fact, 12 people become a victim of identity theft each second. Now’s the time to take action and keep your identity - and your money - safe.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information, like your name, address, date of birth, or credit card number.
There are many ways a hacker could steal your personal information, whether that’s hacking into a company database, taking it from your social media profile, or scamming you into handing it over voluntarily (known as phishing).
Once a hacker has your information, they could use it straight away or sell it on the dark web.
What is identity fraud?
This is the next step on from identity theft. Once someone has your details, they can use them to buy goods and services, take out a credit card or loan, or do pretty much whatever they like, posing as “you”. This is known as identity fraud.
The impact of identity fraud can be time-consuming and stressful
Becoming a victim of identity fraud is more complex than just the hassle of changing your passwords. These are some of the effects:
- A damaged credit score
If someone applies for credit in your name, not only do you end up being liable for the debt, but it could harm your credit score and your ability to borrow in future.
- Lost time and money
It can take anything from a few days to a few years to rectify the effects of fraud. You may have to spend time speaking to credit reference agencies, banks, the police and fraud companies. This is on top of the money you could lose in the form of expenses incurred by the identity thief and time off work resolving the issue.
- Emotional toll
Many victims of identity fraud say they were left feeling helpless, fearful and vulnerable. It can be a stressful time for victims and their families.
- Being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit
It doesn’t happen often, but if someone uses your identity to commit crimes, you could end up going to court. If this happens, you’d need to hire a lawyer to represent you and fight the charges.
How can you prevent identity theft?
With the effects of identity fraud being so widespread, it’s important to do whatever you can to protect yourself.
- Keep your social media private
A hacker only needs three pieces of information to steal your identity - your name, address and date of birth. Once they have this, they can buy fake ID documents using your details, and hey presto - that’s a proof of identity sorted. They can also use information you post on social media to guess your passwords. So be wary of oversharing online, and never put your birthday or address on your social media accounts.
- Check your bank statements
Don’t underestimate the importance of checking your bank statements regularly, and if you spot any suspicious transactions, report them to your provider immediately.
- Use a combination of strong passwords
Try to avoid using guessable passwords like your hometown or pet’s name, and make sure you have different passwords for different accounts. A strong password contains a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
Having said that, most people find it difficult to remember so many complex passwords. If you’re one of them, experts highly recommend using a password manager. There are a number of free options such as those provided by your browser or phone, or paid ones like 1Password.
- Enable two-factor authentication on your important accounts
If your account is only protected by a password, it’s at risk of being hacked. Two-factor authentication adds another layer of protection, by asking you to re-confirm your identity using something other than a password. This could be a text to your phone, or an authentication app, for example.
Two-factor authentication is a must for your email, banking, social, PayPal and password manager accounts.
- Be wary when opening emails or answering phone calls
Be vigilant of what lands in your inbox - if you’re even a little unsure about something, don’t reply or click on any links in the email. If the sender is pretending to be a real company, search for that company’s details and get in touch with them this way, rather than replying to the email. The same goes for phone calls.
Sometimes, a scammer will use the information they’ve stolen from you to make the phone call or email seem more legitimate, for example by stating your full name and address. You can find out more about how to spot scams in our guide.
- Make sure your mail gets to you
If you’re moving house, make sure you redirect your mail to your new address so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. You can set up your redirection online here, or visit your local Post Office branch.
You should also consider locking your mailbox if someone could get access to it.
- Shred your documents
It’s best practice to shred your utility bills, bank statements, and any other documents with personally identifiable information on them before you recycle them.
While you might not think anyone has time to go through your bins, you’d be surprised at the lengths criminals are willing to go to to steal your money.
- Check your credit score and report regularly
With our ClearScore Alerts feature, you’ll receive regular updates based on changes on your Equifax credit report. Keep an eye on any updates to spot suspicious activity early and take action quickly.
If you believe you have been a victim of identity fraud, act quickly
Finding out you’ve been a victim of identity fraud can be very upsetting, but there are ways you can prevent any further damage.
1. First things first: act quickly
Contact your bank(s) and lender(s) and let them know what’s happened. After they’ve completed their fraud investigations and confirmed the transaction to be fraudulent, they should be able to refund you your money.
2. Contact ActionFraud
ActionFraud is the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. You can file a report online or talk to their specialists by calling 0300 123 2040. They’ll be able to provide you with assistance on next steps.
3. Contact CIFAS - the leaders in fraud prevention
CIFAS offer a ‘Protective Registration’ service which places a warning alongside your personal details that is visible to banks and lenders when you’re applying for a product or service. When banks or lenders see this warning, they’ll take extra security measures to ensure that the application is actually from you, not someone pretending to be you.
4. Contact Victim Support
Victim Support is an independent charity that helps anyone affected by crime. They provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day whether you’ve reported the crime to the police or not.