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How to protect yourself from identity theft

Identity theft is on the rise, and the impact can be wide-reaching. Find out how you can keep your identity - and your money - safe.

21 October 2021Andre Spiteri 4 min read
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With identity fraud cases reaching a record high since the Covid pandemic, 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.

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

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.

Becoming a victim of identity fraud is more complex than just the hassle of changing your passwords. 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.

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.

Not only that, but 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.

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 - and a password manager

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 is as long as possible. Try using three totally random words joined together.

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.

For more, read our guide on How to create a strong password

. ### 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.

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 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 don’t recognise information on your credit report, you can dispute this directly with Experian.

Check your credit report now on ClearScore - it's free, forever.

Remember that hackers can be very intelligent, and often you have no control over whether your details are caught up in a data breach.

That’s why we created ClearScore Protect, our new dark web monitoring service. Every three months, we’ll scan the dark web to see if your passwords have been leaked online.

If your details fall into the wrong hands, you’ll be one of the first to know. This gives you valuable time to alert the police and your bank, hopefully saving you the financial and emotional cost of becoming a victim of identity fraud.

Next step: Start your first dark web scan now.

Andre Spiteri Image

Written by Andre Spiteri

Financial Writer

Andre is a former lawyer turned award-winning finance writer.