Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

In the last issue we spoke in detail about the threat of scammers and how to combat them. In this issue we look at the related threat of identity theft and how to protect yourself from it.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is a way to carry out crime, involving unauthorised use of your name and personal details to either steal from you, or commit crime in your name. Identity theft can be carried out either online, physically using printed documents, or by a combination of the two.

Who Is Affected Most?

Older people, students and children are the groups most vulnerable to identity theft. Because identity theft can be anonymous, victims may experience feelings of helplessness. In a 2016 US survey 69% of victims reported feelings of fear related to personal financial safety, 60% reported anxiety, 42% reported fearing for the financial security of family members, and 8% reported feeling suicidal.

How Can Your Identity Be ‘Stolen’?

  • Being tricked into divulging personal data in response to an email, text, letter or phone call.
  • Theft of or access to paper documents (for example, bank statements, utility bills and tax returns).
  • Sharing private information with family, friends or people who take you into their confidence.
  • ‘Shoulder surfing’ – people looking over your shoulder at your computer or smartphone/tablet, or at the ATM.

How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

  • Not receiving bills or other correspondence.
  • Receiving credit cards you did not apply for.
  • Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about things you have not bought.
  • Seeing entries on your bank or credit card statements you can’t explain.
  • Not being able to log into a website using your normal log-in details.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Identity Thieves?

  • Do not share account information with friends, family or other people.
  • Ensure you use effective antivirus/antispyware software on your IT and change/vary your passwords regularly.
  • File sensitive documents securely, arrange for paperless bills and statements if possible, and shred those you no longer need.
  • Never share private information in response to an email, text, letter or phone call unless you are certain that the request is genuine.
  • Always be aware of people looking over your shoulder when using a computer, smartphone/tablet or ATM.

What To Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

  • Act promptly in order to minimise the impact of the theft.
  • Report all lost or stolen documents (passports, driving licences, credit cards, etc) as soon as possible to the relevant authorities.
  • Contact any affected websites and advise them about the problem.
  • Ask your bank or credit card company for advice (for example, on freezing accounts and getting new cards, passwords and PINs).
  • Change all your passwords if possible.

If you think you have been a victim of identity fraud report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.

If you’ve experienced cybercrime, contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support.

The information above relies heavily on content from the following website: www.getsafeonline.org/personal/articles/safeguarding-identity/. This is an excellent source for common sense advice on every aspect of identity theft.

An equally helpful website on this issue is provided by Action Fraud and can be found at: www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/identity-fraud-and-identity-theft.

If you do not have easy access to the internet, and have questions about identity theft, call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 and report your concerns; or contact your local Citizens Advice office. Protect yourself from identity theft.

Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.