Protecting Yourself from Identity Fraud

by Benedict Rohan - Date: 2006-12-05 - Word Count: 808 Share This!

Your identity is extremely valuable. You need it to prove who you are for various purposes in your day-to-day life, such as opening a bank account, obtaining a loan, getting a credit card, purchasing goods or services, applying for a passport or driving licence, or claiming benefits. If a criminal gets hold of your personal details, they can do exactly the same things in your name without your knowledge. And it's not rare for this to happen - the problem of identity theft is increasing all the time and the Home Office estimates that it costs the UK economy 1.7 billion a year.

It's therefore extremely important to keep your personal information safe. There are lots of things you can do to protect yourself from identity fraud. This practical factsheet provides some useful tips and information on how to do this.

Ways in which your identity might be stolen

A house burglary in which personal documents are stolen. Handbag or wallet theft. Fraudulent internet or phone banking scams in which you inadvertently give out personal details to fraudsters in the belief that you are being contacted by a legitimate organisation such as your own bank. Post in your name being delivered to a previous address of yours and used to commit fraud in your name. Having your post stolen or redirected without your permission. Internal systems fraud - for example, payroll data from employees of the Government Tax Credit Office was stolen in 2005 and their details used to falsely claim benefits. Criminals raking through your rubbish to find personal information.

How will you know when your identity has been stolen?

Often people first find out about it when they are refused credit because their credit rating has dropped. You're not receiving any post at all, or key documents or letters you have been expecting do not arrive. You receive bills or invoices for goods that you didn't purchase. There are some transactions on your bank account that you don't recognise. You have received solicitors letters or letters from debt collectors that have nothing to do with you. You apply for benefits and are told that you are already claiming. You receive correspondence from a government agency demanding repayment of benefits when you have never claimed anything in the first place.

Who loses out?

You - your credit rating could be damaged and you might find it difficult to obtain credit in the future. You will also have to prove to the organisations demanding payment from you that you are not responsible for them. The government - the public purse suffers from billions of pounds worth of fraudulent tax and benefit claims every year. Financial organisations - the companies with whom your details have been falsely used to obtain money may never be able to recover what was stolen in your name.

How to protect yourself against identity fraud

Don't throw anything containing your name and address and/or other personal details into the bin without shredding it first. This includes bills, bank statements, benefits statements, receipts and even unwanted post and junk mail. Always let your bank and other organisations of which you are a customer know when you move house. Don't use your mother's maiden name as a security password Check your credit rating with each of the three UK credit agencies at least once a year. (These are Experian, Equifax and Call Credit.) Don't use the same password for all accounts. If you're worried that someone else could easily intercept your post, arrange to collect important items rather than have them posted to you, e.g. credit cards or cheque books from your bank. Cancel stolen credit cards immediately. Contact the DVLA or the Passport Agency immediately if your driving licence or passport have been stolen. Don't give out your credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone if people nearby could overhear. Check your bank and other financial statements regularly to check for suspicious transactions. If you receive a phone call or email from what seems to be a legitimate organisation requesting personal details, check it's genuine before proceeding. The best approach is to take their phone number and call them back. Banks will never ask you for your PIN or login details for their banking system. Ensure your computer is safe for making online transactions - get anti-virus software and a good firewall for protection, and only ever enter personal details onto secure sites (with the prefix https in the address).

What to do if your identity has been stolen

Contact the organisations with whom the fraud has been committed to explain what has happened. Inform the police. Get in touch with the Royal Mail if you suspect your mail has been intercepted. Contact CIFAS, the UK's fraud protection agency, and register with their protection service to help prevent future fraud. Get credit reports from the three credit checking agencies to identify exactly what has been done in your name.

Related Tags: mortgage, homeowner loans, remortgages, commercial mortgage

Author: Benedict Rohan Website: Benedict Rohan works as a freelance finance writer. Commercial Mortgage, Homeowner Loans, Remortgages

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