How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

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How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains your personal information in order to commit identity fraud. “It’s gathering data for nefarious purposes,” says James Jones, head of consumer affairs at credit reference agency Experian.

“They could then use that information to apply for loans, goods, or services fraudulently.” It may also entail taking over or utilizing an existing product rather than opening a new one.”

Being targeted by fraudsters can be upsetting, and resolving the situation can take time. The crime can also have a direct impact on your personal finances, affecting your credit record and making it difficult to apply for credit cards, loans, or mortgages. So, what can you do to safeguard your identity?

Identity theft occurs when a criminal obtains your personal information in order to commit identity fraud. “It’s gathering data for nefarious purposes,” says James Jones, head of consumer affairs at credit reference agency Experian. “They could then use that information to apply for loans, goods, or services fraudulently.” It may also entail taking over or utilizing an existing product rather than opening a new one.”

Being targeted by fraudsters can be upsetting, and resolving the situation can take time. The crime can also have a direct impact on your personal finances, affecting your credit record and making it difficult to apply for credit cards, loans, or mortgages. So, what can you do to safeguard your identity?

If in doubt, don’t click

Don’t click on third-party links, whether they arrive via social media posts, text messages or emails, or anywhere else. The simple rule is, always look up the official website.

Be aware of fraud trends

“Fraudsters are very good at using trends to change their tactics, and at the moment the cost of living crisis is particularly hot,” Burridge says. “We have seen an increase in criminals posing as energy companies claiming they can offer a better deal, or as supermarkets offering money-off vouchers.”

Investment scams target those who need to supplement their income. Fraudsters pose as legitimate firms asking the victim to share their computer screen using remote access, so they can harvest personal and financial data.

They have also been posing as network providers asking for details of your existing contract, so they can offer you a better deal. Once they have these details, they can order devices in your name.

“When the government announced energy rebates through council tax, people started to see messages popping up saying: ‘Click here to set up your payment,’” says Jones. “If you’re not careful, you could give your bank account details to a crook.”.

Protect passwords

“Password managers, like 1Password or LastPass, can be a great way of creating strong passwords and keeping track of them,” says Steve Goddard, the fraud and financial crime expert at Featurespace, a firm that provides tools to banks that aim to stop stolen IDs being used fraudulently.

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For example, LastPass will generate and store passwords in an online “vault” that you can access through an authenticator on your phone. It has free and premium versions.

Online shopping

“If you’re searching for a particular store, make sure the URL is correct and that it has https at the start, or a little padlock – these mean it should be secure. If they are missing, you are potentially taking a risk,” Goddard says.

If you search for a store on Google, avoid clicking on the ads at the top of the page, he adds.

“It’s better to find the actual website because those ads are subscription-based, and someone could be waiting for the subscription to expire and take it over themselves,” he says.

Shred documents

Most – but not all – ID theft happens online. However, you still need to be careful when it comes to letters and other documents. “It’s still good practice to shred any document with your personal details on it,” Goddard advises.

“When you throw out a bill, for example, you’re sending it from a protected area – your house – to, say, landfill, and it’s got your full name, address, contact details and an account number.

“Somebody could take that, and pretend to be the company and say to a victim: ‘You’ve got an outstanding bill, here’s the sort code and account number to pay it into.’”

Update where you live

If you move house, remember to contact all the relevant companies and organisations – from your bank and credit card company to your doctor and dentist – to update them, and organise to have your mail redirected.

Make sure you notify the electoral roll, too, so that you are not registered at an old address.

Experian’s Jones says: “We include electoral register information in credit reports to help lenders check your name and address. So you don’t want to be registered somewhere that you don’t actually live because that could obviously help make a fraudulent application look a lot more legitimate.”

Heed the warning signs

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, if you stop receiving statements from your bank for no reason, or you begin to receive letters or demands for debts that aren’t yours, or if you get receipts in your name for services or items you haven’t bought, these could all be a sign that someone has been using your identity.