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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Identity fraud

Identity fraud (also called identity theft) is when somebody pretends to be you. They may do this in order to buy things in your name and leave you and your bank with the bill. Find out how to protect your personal details and prevent identity fraud.

How your identity can be stolen

There are many ways that someone can steal your identity, including:

  • finding out your bank details
  • taking your passport or driving licence, or copying the details
  • copying your credit card details
  • accessing your personal information through a fraudulent website or email
  • taking junk mail that has your personal information on it
  • going through your dustbin to find receipts or other information

You may not know straight away that your identity has been stolen. It is important that you make sure to protect your details and be aware of any signs that your identity might have been stolen.

How to tell if your identity has been stolen

Signs that you have become a victim of identity theft might include:

  • unusual payments or direct debits appearing on your bank statements
  • important mail going missing - you should know when to expect a bank statement or a new cheque book, and if it doesn't arrive, tell your bank
  • contents of recycling bins and rubbish bags being tampered with
  • bills arriving for things that you haven't bought or for services you haven't ordered
  • new credit cards appearing on your credit record

If you think that your identity has been stolen, you can find advice and help by clicking on the links below.

How to stay safe from ID theft

Using just a few of your personal details, criminals can apply for bank accounts, credit cards, benefits and official documents in your name.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe.

Online tips

To stay safe online:

  • delete suspicious-looking emails without opening them
  • keep a good firewall on your home computer
  • don't use the same password on all websites
  • refuse to give personal information to any company that emails or calls you unexpectedly
  • keep your credit card within view when paying at restaurants or shops
  • don't respond to emails that seem to be from your bank asking you to 're-enter' your personal details; your bank will not ask you to do that
  • don't buy online unless you see the golden padlock on the payments page, and a web address beginning with 'https'
  • install all security updates and 'patches' offered by your computer software company

Offline tips

To stay safe offline:

  • shred all personal information before throwing it away in your rubbish; this includes bank statements, anything containing National Insurance details, salary information, even old membership cards
  • tear off and destroy the name and address on the envelopes you receive before throwing them away
  • never give out your personal information when you could be overheard
  • don't leave personal documents visible in your home; keep them somewhere safe
  • tell your utility company and local council (for Council Tax and electoral register) when you move house
  • keep your banking and credit card PIN numbers safe - no bank will ever phone you to ask for your PIN
  • make sure your letterbox is secure, and that post can get through and fall safely to the floor
  • if you live in a shared building, ask your bank if you can pick up new debit cards or cheque books at your branch
  • if you think your credit card has been used fraudulently you should contact your card issuer immediately

Keep your personal details to yourself

Personal details should only ever be revealed when it is your decision to give them out. Your bank will never ask for your PIN or online account password, and neither will any trustworthy online retailer, credit card or auction site. 

To keep your information safe you should:

  • never give out your personal details to a telephone caller, such as your date of birth or mother's maiden name
  • always delete emails asking you to 'update' bank account details (fraudsters can easily use the logos of high street store names, and fraudulent emails will often appear genuine)

Monitor your credit report

You can order your credit report. If you have ever had a credit card, a loan or a mortgage, one of three main credit reference agencies hold a file on you. This includes details of organisations with which you have had financial dealings in recent years.

A statutory credit report by post costs £2. When you receive your report, check it thoroughly. 

If you find anything that you don't recognise, contact the credit reference agency and let them know.

Report missing mail

If you think your post might have been intercepted or stolen, contact Royal Mail. 

You can either report what's happened on the Royal Mail website, or speak to a customer service adviser by calling 08457 740 740. They will direct your query to an investigations unit that specialises in mail problems. 

If you move house you can also arrange for Royal Mail to redirect your post for up to a year - even if you move abroad.

In this section...

Additional links

Protect your identity

How to protect yourself from identity theft - and what to do if it happens to you

Victims of crime - find help

If you're a victim of crime, you can now search for services in your area that can give you help and support

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