Prevent Identity Theft

These days, identity theft is an ever-increasing problem. Just the other day, I saw someone digging in my neighbour's paper recycling bin, a crime that's unfortunately becoming more common.

According to members of CIFAS, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service, during the first quarter of 2012 it was confirmed that the abuse of identity details, such as dates of birth and postcodes now accounts for two thirds of all frauds.

Many people do not realise such common and basic details could be used to steal your identity.

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What is identity theft?

Identity theft and fraud is the use of a stolen identity in criminal activity to obtain identification, goods or services by deception and is frequently tied to organised crime. If someone steals enough information about you, they can use it to:

  • Open bank accounts and credit cards, loans and even register for benefits
  • Order goods in your name
  • Open mobile phone contracts
  • Obtain driving licence, passports and identity cards
  • Take over your own bank accounts, mobile phone contracts, and credit cards

On average, it takes nearly a year for identity fraud to be discovered by the victim. The first you know of it may be when you receive bills or invoices for things you haven’t ordered, when you receive letters from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that aren’t yours, or try to renew your passport and are unable to do so. Victims of identity theft often find they're turned down for mortgages or loans, despite having excellent credit ratings, due to the actions of fraudsters.

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How can I prevent identity theft?

To help prevent identity theft, it is prudent to shred and properly destroy all documents that contain:

  • your name
  • your current address (even just your postcode)
  • your previous address(es)

and all documents such as:

  • anything from a financial institution
  • utility bills
  • receipts with your debit or credit card details - even if it is just the last four numbers

You should also arrange for the post office to redirect your mail once you have moved home. Where I live, credit card offers and other financial junk mail arrive every week for previous residents - a golden opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage.

Be aware that the identities of those who have passed away are also vulnerable to being taken over by fraudsters. Make sure to have them removed from any mailing lists, and protect their identity just as you would your own. The Bereavement Register offers a service to assist you with this.

Removing the effects of identity theft is a frustrating, time consuming and expensive process. Prevention, in this case, is truly better than the cure. If you think you've been the victim of identity theft, contact Action Fraud.

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