Don’t fall victim to fraud this Christmas

Credit cards

Identity fraud is on the rise in Britain and Christmas provides ample opportunity for fraudsters to compromise your identity. A number of scares in recent weeks have shown just how easy it is for your details to fall into the wrong hands, allowing criminals to borrow thousands in your name. Christmas is expensive enough as it is, so here are some tips to help you protect your identity.

It doesn't take that much information to allow criminals to take out credit or buy goods in your name. One utility bills or bank account statement could give them all the details they need so you need to be extra careful this Christmas.

At home

We all want to have our homes in tip top shape for the throngs of visitors that will no doubt arrive over the holiday season. However, do not throw out anything that contains personal details such as bills or credit card statements in the big clean up. 'Bin raiding' is one of the most common ploys used by identity fraudsters in gathering information on individuals. If you do not want reams of bills and statements lying around the house, invest in a shredder and be sure to use it before throwing out any documents that contain financial or personal information.

Make sure your mail is not being intercepted. You should have a fair idea of who will be sending you Christmas cards. Contact the Post Office immediately if any of these fail to arrive. It is also a good idea to know when to expect bills and bank and credit card statements.

Internet security

Only use your credit or debit card at sites that offer secure payments – look for https in the url, where the s stands for secure, or a closed padlock symbol on the payment page. Another option is to sign up for the Visa and MasterCard services that allow you to register your card and personal details on a remote, secure server, so the online merchant never sees them.

Only use reputable sites that give full contact details including a postal address and telephone number. If you really want to be secure, ring the telephone number to make sure it checks out. As well as protecting your identity, you are much more likely to receive quality goods and services from reputable sites.

Be careful when using social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. These sites are notorious for their lack of privacy so you could inadvertently give away an answer to a security question in your online banking service or even let would-be burglars know when you will be out of the house.

One of the best ways of knowing whether your identity has been compromised is to keep a regular check on your credit report. Sign up for an online credit monitoring and identity fraud protection service, such as CreditExpert from Experian, which allows you to see your credit report as often as you like and alerts you by text or e-mail whenever there is a significant change. This could help you stop problems before they develop into something serious.

Shopping

Pickpockets abound on Britain's busy high streets in the run-up to Christmas. While traditionally they were after cash and credit cards, modern criminals know that valuable personal information can also be gleaned from people's wallets. So keep your wallet or purse safe, and do not carry documents such as passports and driving licenses unless absolutely necessary. Even a letter with so much as your name and address could help a criminal to apply for credit in your name.

When withdrawing money from a cash point check it for any suspicious looking devices and always cover your hand when you enter your PIN number.

Nights out

Keep your credit card in sight at all times when making payments at bars and restaurants, and never leave it behind the bar. In general, you should try not to leave your defenses down even after a few drinks. Keep a close eye on all your belongings and try to travel in groups to and from Christmas parties.

While Christmas may provide rich pickings for identity fraudsters, it is a year around problem. If you have not done so already, you should take steps to protect yourself in the long run. For more on how to combat identity fraud click here.

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