Your identity is one of your most valuable possessions. Criminals who obtain access to your personal details can use them to take out loans and credit cards, obtain state benefits and apply for passports and driving licenses – all in your name. Identity theft occurs when criminals steal your personal information for their own use. In the past, the most common way in which criminals could access your personal details was through rooting through your rubbish bin to find documentation that you had thrown away and through contacting you directly and pretending to be from a genuine organisation. In recent years, identity theft has become more high-tech, with criminals turning to the Internet to steal personal details.
Identity theft is a serious crime. It impacts your personal finances and costs government and financial institutions millions of pounds each year. Once your identity has been stolen, you may find it hard to obtain loans, mortgages and credit cards.
If you receive invoices, bills or receipts for goods that you have not ordered or receive letters from debt collection agencies with regards to the repayment of loans you have not taken out, you may have been a victim of identity theft. Further clues that you have been a victim include receiving confirmation letters for bank accounts that you have not agreed to, recognising transactions on your bank statements that you have not made yourself, and failing to receive important documents, such as passports, bank statements, credit cards or utility bills, through the post.
When checking your credit report, you may discover new accounts that you fail to recognise or find that organisations have been searching through your credit file following receiving applications that you have not made yourself. If you apply for state benefits and are informed that you have already made a claim or find that you are refused finance when you possess a favourable credit history, your suspicions should be raised.
If you find that you have been a victim of identity theft, you must act promptly. You should notify all of the organisations that you are associated with, as well as the police. The police will provide you with a crime number, which you should keep for future reference. You should retain a record of all documents associated with the detection of the crime.
If you need to send letters, ensure that they are sent via record delivery so that you can ensure that they fall into the right hands. If you have had important documentation stolen, you may wish to apply for additional protection by contacting CIFAS, the Fraud Prevention Service in the UK. CIFAS’s Protective Registration Service will ensure that additional identity checks are performed whenever anyone applies for credit in your name.
You can prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft by keeping a note of the date on which bills and statements are expected to arrive in the post. In the event that you fail to receive a statement, you should notify the sender immediately. You may wish to switch to online-only statements and bills if you are concerned about the non-receipt of such documentation.
When using the Internet, you should ensure that your computer is protected with anti-virus software and you should never give your personal details or bank account details to anyone who unexpectedly contacts you. You should always be suspicious when you receive requests to provide your personal details, even when an individual claim to be working for a bank or the police.
If in doubt, ask for their telephone number, check that it is genuine and, if it is, return their call. Remember that your bank will never request your PIN number, whole security number or password over the Internet. If you are asked for these details, do not provide them – always keep them secure. Refrain from using the same password for all of your online accounts. Keep any passwords safe and refrain from storing them in a way in which they could be left open to theft.
When you receive bills and statements, inspect them immediately and raise the alarm with the sender if you find transactions that you do not recognise. You should always shred any documents that reveal your personal details, including your old bank statements and utility bills. If you relocate, you must inform your bank and all other organisations that you are associated with and should ensure that your mail is redirected from your old place of residence for at least a year.