Identity fraud: How to protect yourself
We investigate some of the most common identity fraud methods, and how you can stop them.
Being a victim of identity fraud is a frightening thought, and some people aren’t even aware they’re a victim until it’s too late.
According to the annual report by Action Fraud, 741,123 identity related crimes were reported between April 2018 and March 2019. The reported total loss for victims was £2.2 billion.
Fraudsters can get your details in a number of different ways. For example there’s phishing, or smishing, where a fraudster will pose as a reputable company and trick you into disclosing personal information through either email or text
Some even steal your information from discarded letters or from lost or stolen ID cards.
Using your details, they can then open bank accounts or take out loans in your name.
We explore the different methods of fraud and arm you with the tools to protect yourself against fraudsters.
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What are the different types of identity fraud?
Scammers use a few different methods to locate your personal details:
A scammer sends an email out to thousands of people, claiming they’re a reputable company. For example, HMRC or your bank.
The email will often have an instruction in it, claiming that you need to either 'verify' or 'update' details, or 'reactivate' an account.
If you then disclose your information, the criminal will use your details for fraudulent purposes.
Protecting yourself from phishing
Ensure that any email that comes from a reputable organisation, like a bank or credit card company, is legitimate.
The main red flag should be if they ask for your personal information, like your account login details or bank details.
They’ll also have a vague greeting, like “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear Customer”
If you suspect an email of being spam, never forward or open it, and don’t follow any links contained within. Chances are they’ll ask you for your personal details via this method.
If you’re on any website, the address should begin with ‘https’.
Look out for any changes to the bank’s website too, or if they’re asking for more details than they usually do.
If you think you've been a victim of phishing, you should contact your bank immediately.
Read more: Ghost brokers: How to avoid being scammed
It’s common for banks to send customers text messages with balance or activity updates.
Fraudsters have exploited this method by sending texts to victims posing as legitimate companies.
These texts are designed to alarm people into acting. They’ll mostly claim that you need to act urgently or you’ll face serious consequences.
Protecting yourself from smishing
Do not follow any links or call any numbers in the text. Don’t provide any personal details either.
If you think it might be legitimate, visit the organization's customer support page.
You can prevent other victims of fraud by reporting it too. Companies can send out alerts or be on the look out for any other fraudulent activity involving their business.
Examples of phishing and smishing
The HMRC have warned consumers of both a phishing and smishing scam where fraudsters have posed as them to gain personal information.
The fraudsters sent thousands of emails and texts to people claiming they had a tax rebate and needed their details.
If criminals gain access to personal documents such as your bank card or passport details they can use the information to get loans or credit cards.
According to Action Fraud, between April 2018 and March 2019, victims of cheque, card and online bank account fraud lost a total of £122.3 million.
If you’ve lost or had documents like your passport or driving licence stolen, then there’s a chance you could be at risk of identity fraud.
What should I look out for?
Be on the look out for anything out of the ordinary eg invoices or, bills addressed to you for goods you haven’t ordered. This includes mobile phone contracts.
Usually you’ll receive correspondence via letter about credit cards and loans. Be aware of these if you’ve not set anything up.
On the other hand, you could also be a victim if you’re not receiving any post at all.
Keep an eye on your bank statement too. If there’s something you don’t recognise, contact your bank.
If you’re applying for a loan or a benefit for the first time, there’s a chance you might be refused if some has stolen your identity.
Using your bank card
Although using your bank card is a safe way to pay, there’s a few things you should look out for if you’re using your card at a cash point:
Keep an eye out for anyone standing near to the machine, or looking suspicious.
Look at the cash machine itself. Sometimes fraudsters will fit machines that trap the card. They’ll then retrieve these after you’ve left the area. If your card gets trapped, call your bank's 24-hour help line, ideally from your mobile while stood by the cash point.
Never accept help from seemingly well-meaning strangers.
Once you’ve finished using the machine, put your cash and card away.
Banks, or any legitimate agency will never ask for your PIN. So if someone asks for it, don’t give it to them.
How can I stop physical fraud?
Keep any personal documents like your passport or driving licence safe and secure. If you’re not using them, keep them in a lockable draw or cabinet.
If you do lose any of personal documents, report it missing to the organisation that issued them.
Make sure you shred any correspondence from your bank, bills, receipts or unwanted post in your name once you’ve finished with it.