Identity theft is rarely far from the headlines as more and more people lose out to fraudsters who steal their personal details.
How can my identity be stolen?
There are many ways in which identity fraud may be committed.
A thief may steal your identity by getting hold of a bank statement or utility bill thrown out with the rubbish, or by accessing your details through a social networking site such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
You could also fall victim if you reveal enough information by replying to a fraudulent email telling you that you have won a prize in a foreign lottery.
The fraudster will then use your details to open bank accounts, take out loans and credit cards, and take over your existing accounts.
Who is at risk?
Everyone is vulnerable to identity theft, however, there are some more at risk than others.
Easy targets include those living in rented accommodation, as they often share communal halls where post is left until collected by individual tenants.
Individuals who move house also leave themselves at risk if they fail to get their post forwarded to their new address.
Look out for the tell-tale signs
Indications that your identity has been stolen include payments you don’t recognise appearing on your bank and credit card statements.
It’s important to regularly check your statements and flag up any unusual behaviour.
Another warning sign is receiving welcome letters from card and loan companies when you have not applied for credit.
Identity theft is extremely serious, and it should not be taken lightly.
If you fall victim to such crime, and debt is built up against your name, it could become difficult for you to obtain credit, such as loans or mortgages, in the future.
Take action straight away
If you are concerned that you have fallen victim, you need to act immediately.
Contact your bank as soon as possible so it can carry out further investigations and, if necessary, report the fraud to the police.
You should also inform your credit reference agency and report all lost or stolen documents to the relevant organisation.
If you think your mail is being redirected, notify Royal Mail.
The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to avoid falling victim.
Destroy or shred documents that contain personal details before you bin them.
Anything with your full name, address, bank details or account numbers are high risk.
Be aware of suspicious emails asking you to confirm your bank details, this is known as “phishing”.
If you are unsure, simply give your bank a call on the official number and it will confirm if a member of staff has tried to contact you.
Be extremely vigilant when giving personal details away, especially to cold callers.
Companies will never ask for your bank details or personal information over the phone.
If you move address, get your mail redirected and make sure you update your financial accounts with your new address.
Register with Cifas
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you should register with anti-fraud organisation Cifas, as extra checks will then be carried out whenever anyone applies for a financial service using your name and address.
The website Get safe Online also offers help on protecting yourself against ID theft.