You might not worry much about throwing away your old bank statements, having your date of birth publicly available on Facebook or using the same password for every new account you create online - but you should. These are all ways in which fraudsters can build up enough information to use your identity for their own benefit.
Your identity is extremely valuable. With enough data about you, fraudsters can gain access to existing accounts you own (like a bank account), apply for new financial products or even apply for government benefits or documents such as passports or driving licences in your name.
Cases of identity fraud increased by 18% in 2019 according to Cifas (the UKs leading fraud prevention service). In this blog, we’ll go over how your information can be fraudulently obtained, how it could be used and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity fraud.
How can fraudsters get my information?
Criminals may use a combination of the following to build up a complete profile of an individual.
- Social media - We post a lot about ourselves on social media, so it’s a valuable tool for fraudsters when it comes to obtaining personal information. Remember that any comments you make on social media may also be visible to the public (which is why you shouldn’t reply to Facebook posts which ask you to comment with your mother’s maiden name/pets name/first school).
- Phishing/smishing - Phishing is when a fraudster sends an email pretending to be from a reputable company and asks for personal and/or financial information. Smishing works in the same way, using texts instead of emails.
- Stolen or lost post - Your data is so useful to fraudsters that they’re willing to get their hands dirty and sift through rubbish to find bank statements and other important documents. Post that accidentally gets delivered to an old address can also be a source of information to criminals.
- Data breaches/hacking - Criminals can use sophisticated techniques to hack into the data sources of legitimate companies and steal customer or employee information. They also have the ability to hack into personal email, social media or other types of accounts.
What could they do with my information?
- Impersonate you to take over existing accounts - If a fraudster has enough information, they may pretend to be you to call your bank, where they could instruct movement of your money out of the account, or apply for financial products without you knowing.
- Take out credit or other financial products - Applying for credit cards, mobile phone contracts, loans or government benefits are other ways in which your data can be used for financial gain. This can have an impact on innocent people by negatively affecting their credit score.
- Apply for government documents - Such as passports or driving licenses which could facilitate other types of organised crime.
- Criminals may use the information they know to convince you they are contacting you from a legitimate company such as your bank or HMRC and carry out an impersonation scam.
- Sell information on the dark web to other criminals. The dark web is a part of the internet that is only accessible via specialised web browsers and is used for ensuring internet activity is kept anonymous. This can be very attractive to members of organised crime groups.
How can I protect myself?
- Make social media pages private and never accept friend requests from people you don’t know. It’s recommended that you regularly check your privacy settings across all platforms, to review what can be seen publicly. Think about what data you’re giving away every time you create a new post and who is able to view it.
- Ensure you have strong passwords for online accounts and that they are different for each new account you create - You need to make it as hard as possible for someone to access your personal information. Using a reputable and recognised password manager can be a great way to make sure your passwords are top notch.
- Don’t provide any personal or financial data, and never log in to an account with your username and password, using links sent by text or email. Always go to the trusted website to ensure you’re giving your data to a genuine institution.
- Be cautious when providing copies of your identity documents to anyone that approaches you online on the premise of verifying your identity, perhaps for a job or renting a property. Make sure you do some research on who you’re speaking to: you need to ensure the request is legitimate.
- Shred or obscure any documentation containing your information before throwing it away or recycling. Also make sure you destroy or wipe information from any old credit cards, sim cards, devices or hard drives before disposing of them.
- If you move to a new address, make sure your post follows you using Royal Mail’s mail redirection service. The service costs £33.99 for three months and £66.99 for twelve and may be a good investment.
- Check your credit report regularly to make sure there are no unrecognised forms of credit taken out in your name. The main Credit Rating Agencies, Experian, Equifax and Transunion, have an obligation to give you a copy of your credit report for free.
- Some companies, such as ClearScore, also allow you to check your own credit report free of charge. Checking your own credit report doesn’t impact your credit score.
- Security software on computers, phones and other devices should be kept up to date to make it harder for criminals to steal your information.
- Report any lost or stolen passports or driving licences to the relevant authorities as soon as possible.
What can I do if I’ve been a victim?
- Report any fraudulently opened credit or bank accounts to the provider immediately. They will be able to investigate and close any accounts down that you didn’t open.
- Carefully check your credit file - if someone has successfully obtained one account in your name, they may have been able to open others. If you don’t recognise any of the searches on your credit file, contact the relevant organisation to stop any applications in their tracks.
- If you suspect your mail is being stolen, you can contact Royal Mail who have an investigation unit that will be able look into this for you.
- Sign up for Protective Registration with Cifas - this will add a note to a secure National Fraud Database which allows registered financial institutions to check if you have been a victim (or have concerns that you potentially could be a victim) of identity fraud. They will then know to take extra precautions when receiving future applications that use your details, which should help prevent fraudsters obtaining bank accounts and credit in your name.
- If you believe the criminals obtained your information because of a hack, change any passwords that may have become compromised (especially ones for accounts linked to the hacked account) and review the recent login activity. You may also wish to consider reviewing who you are ‘friends’ with or who is following you on social media.