Identify Theft and Fraud
Identity theft happens when someone has enough information about you, details like your name, date of birth, current or previous addresses, to commit identity fraud.
Identity theft can happen whether the fraud victim is alive or dead.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, it can lead to fraud which could have a direct impact on personal finances and make it difficult to obtain loans, credit cards or mortgages until the matter is resolved.
Identity fraud happens when a stolen identity is used to obtain goods or services by deception.
Fraudsters can use your identity details to:
Open bank accounts
Obtain credit cards, loans and state benefits.
Order goods in your name.
Take over your existing accounts.
Take out mobile phone contracts.
Obtain genuine documents like passports and driving licences in your name.
Stealing someone’s identity details does not, on its own, constitute identity fraud. But when that identity is used for any of the above activities it does.
Often the first you know of this crime might be when you receive a bill or invoice for things you haven’t ordered or receive letters from debt collectors for debts that aren’t yours.
Identity theft is one the fastest-growing crimes of the 21st century so it pays to take precautions. You can help protect yourself from identity theft by:
Shredding sensitive information
Always shred financial statements, loan and credit card offers, catalogue account details or anything else which could be used to impersonate you before throwing them away.
Identity thieves will go through your rubbish to see if there is anything useful – a practice known as bin raiding.
Checking statements carefully
Go through your credit card and bank statements every month to check for suspicious activity. Unexpected entries can be the first indication of someone stealing your money.
Checking your credit report
Your credit report is such an effective tool in the fight against identity fraud that the Government recommends regularly checking it to protect your identity.
It gives you a snapshot of your borrowings and repayment record, so you can easily spot unfamiliar accounts and suspicious balances.
There are three credit reference agencies – Callcredit, Equifax and Experian – all offering a credit report checking service to alert people to any key changes in their credit file which show any potential fraudulent activity.
Limiting your social networking
Protecting your identity online is one of the most important things you can do. It’s tempting to include basic information like your full name and date of birth in your online profiles and then add interesting details such as your pet or children’s names and nicknames.
Do not do this - these are the kind of details that you probably use for passwords and PINs so leave them out. Cyber-friends could be fraudsters looking for enough data to steal your identity.
Not risking important documents
Don't carry your passport, driving licence or even credit cards unless you know you’ll need them. Never write down your PINs or passwords. If your bag or wallet is stolen, you could be handing the thieves your identity as well as your cash.
Always tell the police, your bank, credit card issuers and anyone else who might be affected if your cards or other important documents are stolen. That way, your loss is recorded and organisations which might be approached by the thieves are forewarned.
Keeping an eye on your post
If mail goes missing, tell the Post Office immediately - someone might be intercepting it, especially if you live in a building with a communal hall where mail is delivered. Be especially careful when you move house and use the Royal Mail’s Redirection Service to forward your post to your new address for at least a year.
Registering to vote at your current address
Lenders use the electoral roll to check that you do live where you say you live. If you’re not registered, a criminal could register you at another address. When you move home, always de-register your old address and re-register at the new one. This prevents anyone who moves into your previous home to offer apparent proof that they are you.
Not responding to cold calls or unsolicited e-mails
Never reply to e-mails or cold-callers who ask for details such as PINs, passwords or account numbers and never fill in your details on any unfamiliar e-mail or website. Telephone the organisation allegedly behind the approach, using the number given in the phone book or previous correspondence, and warn them what is happening.
What should you do if you’ve been a victim of identity fraud?
Act quickly and don’t ignore the problem. Even though you didn’t order the goods or open a bank account, the bad debts will be under your name and address.
If you think you’re a victim of identity fraud, involving credit and debit cards, online banking or cheques, you must report it to your bank as soon as possible. Your bank is then responsible for investigating the issue and will report any criminal activity to the police, who will then record your case and decide whether to carry out follow-up investigations.
If you think you’re a victim of another kind of identity fraud, you must report it to the relevant organisation. Depending on their advice, you should then alert your local police force.
You should report all lost or stolen documents – like passports, driving licences, plastic cards and cheque books – to the relevant organisation.
If you’re not sure which organisation to call, contact Action Fraud for advice.
Call the Royal Mail Customer Enquiry line on 08457 740 740 if you suspect your mail is being stolen or that a mail redirection has been fraudulently set up on your address. Royal Mail has an investigation unit that will be able to help you.
Get a copy of your credit report which shows any searches done by a lender, the date when the search was made, the name and address it was done against and the type of application. It will also show what credit accounts are set up in your name. You can contact any one of the three credit reference agencies and receive support in resolving credit report problems caused by identity fraud – Callcredit, Equifax and Experian.
Look at your credit report closely. If you find entries from organisations you don’t normally deal with, contact them immediately. Remember - keep a record of all your actions, including who you’ve spoken to and when and copies of all the letters you send and receive.
Where fraudulent applications have been made or fraudulent credit accounts opened, the credit reference agencies will contact lenders on your behalf to help restore your credit history to its former state.