A closer look at identity fraud

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Last week, we examined the risks posed to you by identity fraud. This week, more shocking statistics have been revealed about this fast-growing form of theft. Here, we examine the issues in more detail to help you avoid becoming a victim.

This week, the police, identity fraud experts and business leaders have come together to boost the awareness of identity fraud for the UK's third National Identity Fraud Prevention Week.

And special research carried out to coincide with the event reveals that the majority of British consumers are leaving themselves wide open to identity fraud.

Despite continuing efforts to combat the problem by raising awareness, a Populus poll commissioned for Identity Fraud Prevention Week shows that three quarters of UK adults have now been personally affected, or have friends and family who have been affected, by identity fraud. Furthermore, 80% of Britons fear having their identity stolen.

It also found that over 19 million households regularly place sensitive materials in their waste and recycling bins. 11% throw away whole credit/debit card numbers – a combination of a complete card number with its associated expiry date and owner's signature was found in the waste and recycling bins of 13% of households. The research also revealed that a third of us are still throwing away everything a fraudster needs to steal a person's identity, including passports, driving licenses, CVs, phone and utility bills.

“It is easy to think identity theft won't happen to me” but it is all too easy to become a victim. We all need to be particularly careful with our personal details. Make no mistake about being a victim – even if you manage to rectify matters quickly, it can still be a very unnerving experience,” says Kate Beddington Brown of CIFAS – The UK's Fraud Prevention Service.

The best way you can avoid becoming an identity fraud victim is to take extra care when it comes to protecting your personal information. Building on last week's article, here is some more advice on how you can protect yourself:

  • Regularly obtain a copy of your credit report from credit reference agencies Callcredit, Equifax or Experian, and monitor it for discrepancies
  • When you move home, redirect your mail from your old address to your new address for at least a year. You can now apply online at: www.royalmail.com/redirection for more information
  • If you're planning to be away from home, don't leave any obvious clues, like a pile of mail on your doormat, contact Royal Mail about its 'Keepsafe' service which will hold your mail for up to two months, and deliver it on your return.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for unusual transactions.
  • Never give out any personal information to unidentified individuals or organisations who contact you by phone, email or face-to-face.
  • Be especially careful when sending personal information over the internet.
  • If you receive an email that warns, with little or no notice, that an account will be shut down unless you reconfirm billing or security information, you should not reply or click on the link in the email. Instead, contact the institution cited in the email using a telephone number or web site address you know to be genuine.
  • Be extra careful if using Internet cafes or any PC which is not your own. If in doubt, a good place to get help and guidance on how to stay safe online is your bank's website. Check regularly for specific information and guidance on protecting your PC and yourself online. In 2006 total losses from online banking fraud from scams such as phishing and Trojans reached £33.5 million, an increase of 44% from 2005.
  • Avoid emailing personal and financial information. Before submitting financial information through a web site, look for the ‘lock' icon on the browser's status bar.
  • Never give personal information to people calling from companies you have not dealt with before. Always check the identity of these people by calling them back. Obtain their office number from directory enquiries and then confirm their position with the switchboard before speaking to them.
  • If you have been a victim of identity fraud involving the use of plastic cards, online banking or cheques, you should contact the financial institution involved immediately. They will then be responsible for further investigation and, where appropriate, onward reporting to the police.

Unfortunately, no one is safe from identity fraud, and criminals are finding ever more sophisticated ways of compromising your personal identity. We hope the information above will keep you safe from the identity fraudsters.

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