Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Mark Ward, head of the consumer services team at credit reference agency Callcredit, offers some tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of identity theft.

You may think that identity theft is something that could never happen to you, however it's an increasing problem. Fraud based on obtaining credit cards and loans using a victim's personal details has risen by 45 per cent from 2002, to £29.7m in 2004 according to figures provided by APACS (Association of Payment Clearing Services).

Most identity thieves not only steal your identity, but they also steal money from financial companies by impersonating their victims - this is known as Identity Fraud.

The effects of being impersonated by someone else who then commits fraud in this way can have an impact on your credit rating and may prevent you from obtaining credit in the short term. There are even more far-reaching concerns, as a fraudster could go on to literally commit criminal acts in your name, and it can often take many months after the discovery of a fraud using your details before your name can be cleared.

The key is to take precautions and make it as difficult as possible for the fraudster to impersonate you. If you are unfortunate enough to be impersonated in this way, it is important to identify it as quickly as possible to prevent further fraud being committed and to take the appropriate action to resolve the situation. This will also give the police a better chance of catching the perpetrator.

How to prevent identity theft

Destroy all documents containing personal details or bank/credit card account details, before disposing of them. Never throw bank/credit card statements in your dustbin without first shredding them. Invest in a home shredder for as little as £30. Bin raiding is a problem we have inherited from the United States, and an easy way for potential fraudsters to gather useful information about you and your financial situation.

Retain credit card receipts until you have checked them against your statement, and securely destroy them when no longer required.

Keep personal documents hidden or locked away at home to prevent burglars gaining easy access to them.

Do not leave personal documents in your vehicle and limit the documents you carry around with you.

Never disclose your personal identification number (PIN) for your bank or credit cards.

Don't give your online passwords to anyone. All major providers will never contact you and ask for your password.

Don't share personal information unless you are confident that you know who you are dealing with. Be cautious if you are called by someone claiming to be from a bank, the police or anyone asking for sensitive information such as your date of birth, mother's maiden name, previous addresses, bank details etc. If you are in doubt, don't disclose any information, offer to call them back and verify the telephone number they give to you with the organisation they claim to be representing.

Subscribe to an on-line credit file monitoring service. MyCallcredit offers consumers the ability to access their credit file on-line 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. It means you can keep a close eye on your file and spot any suspicious changes or transactions (new accounts, credit searches etc) very quickly. For greater piece of mind myCallcredit offers an alert service which sends you an email or sms text message when there are any significant changes to your credit file. Visit www.mycallcredit.co.uk for more details.

If you move house make use of the Royal Mail Redirection service for at least one year and inform your bank/credit card companies of your new address immediately.

Keep a list of your card numbers and the 'lost & stolen' contact numbers for the relevant companies in one place. Remember to keep the list secure. If you have your purse/wallet stolen, you will have all the details you need to cancel your cards as a matter of urgency. Alternatively join a card protection scheme for peace of mind (most credit card companies will put you in touch with their preferred supplier). For a small annual fee all your bank and credit cards can be logged with them and if you are a victim of theft they will contact all the card suppliers on your behalf.

If you believe your lost or stolen identity documentation may be misused, you should contact CIFAS - The UK's Fraud Prevention Service, and apply for their Protective Registration Service. Individuals may request a CIFAS Protective Registration against their own address when they have good reason to believe it may be used by a fraudster, for example, when documentation such as a Passport has been stolen. Members of CIFAS - financial services, retail credit, mail order, mobile phones etc - routinely check applications for credit or other facilities, such as insurance or mobile phones. A CIFAS Protective Registration warning on an address indicates to these organisations that they may need to carry out additional checks. When you apply for Protective Registration, you will be asked to supply information that will be used to verify any applications received in your name. This may be done over the telephone, and will be actioned immediately for a fee of £11.75, but registration must be confirmed in writing. To request Protective Registration, telephone 08700 102091. Further information about ID Theft and how to protect yourself is available from the Home Office website at www.identity-theft.org.uk.

Some warning signs of identity theft and fraud:
  • Your regular bank or credit card statements fail to appear
  • You notice that some of your mail is missing
  • Your credit card statement includes charges for items you have not purchased or ordered
  • A debt collection agency contacts you about goods you have not ordered or an account you have never opened
  • You receive a telephone call or letter saying you have been approved or denied credit for accounts you know nothing about
  • Royal Mail write to your address regarding a mail redirection request you did not make.
  • Your credit file reveals unauthorised activity which suggests possible identity theft, such as new accounts you did not open, searches by companies you have not dealt with or address links to addresses you have had no connection with. Remember that you will sometimes see the records of people with whom you are financially connected. If you are concerned by any activity on your credit file, report it immediately to the fraud department of the relevant lender.
What to do if you have been the victim of identity theft:
  • Contact the lenders/organisations involved immediately and keep a record of all communications and the names of the people you speak to
  • Ensure the lenders remove any information about the fraudulent account from your credit file - they may need to delete records from the databases of all three credit reference agencies.
  • Ask the lender to register a CIFAS entry relating to the crime to help protect you from further fraud.
  • Report the incident to the police, especially if it involves stolen identification documents, and ask for a crime reference number, or documentation to record the incident.
  • If a passport or driving licence is stolen or lost, it should be reported immediately.
  • Report all stolen cheques or cards to the issuers, and request new ones. Follow up telephone calls with written notification. Get new cards, account numbers, and Personal Identification Numbers.
  • Notify the Post Office if you suspect mail theft - they have an investigations unit who will be able to help.
  • If you have become a victim of ID fraud, destroy all cheques and cards, close your account and tell your bank you would prefer to open a new one.

The consequences of Identity Fraud can be distressing and very time-consuming to resolve. Don't just think it will never happen to you. It doesn't take much effort to make it difficult for the fraudsters.