The Importance of being Earnest … how safe is your identity?

Sarah-Varani-150x150CIFAS – the UK’s Fraud Prevention service recently published the annual Fraudscape report which found that if you’re a 46-year-old male living in a major city then you are more likely to become a victim of identity theft than anyone else in the country. Cities including London, Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester were found to be the country’s fraud hot spots. Recorded fraud was up 25pc last year, with 276,993 cases reported in 2014, compared to 221,075 in 2013. One in five people has lost money as a result of cyber crime, the average loss per online attack being £247 per person.

Simon Dukes, chief executive, at CIFAS, said: “The frauds we are recording point to increasingly sophisticated, predatory and organised criminals. This is crime on an industrial scale.”
Celebrities such as Beyonce, Jay-Z and Britney Spears have had their private details stolen and posted online. If it can happen to them, could it happen to you?

It’s not unheard of for criminals to pick through peoples rubbish to get their hands on any sensitive information they can. A full picture of your identity can be obtained from documents such as bank or credit card statements or the contents of your handbag or wallet. Don’t forget that this can also be pieced together from information you provide online. Criminals are hacking through weak passwords and taking advantage of consumers over the internet by creating fake links, sending phishing emails (pretending to be a genuine company you may have dealings with) and even managing to install spyware on your devices in some cases. You may also receive unsolicited calls asking for personal information by criminals posing as your bank, Microsoft etc.

If criminals do manage to get hold of details such as your full name, address, date of birth, phone number as well as credit card details or bank account numbers, they may be able to steal your identity. They could use your name to open accounts, get credit cards and loans or apply for state benefits and documents such as passports and driving licences.

Ofcom say that 55% of adult internet users in the UK admit to using the same password for most, if not all, websites and 26% say they use easy to remember passwords such as birthdays or names. You wouldn’t leave your house keys on a hook by the back door to make it easy for burglars to see what you have hidden under your mattress, so why make it simple for virtual burglars to access your hard earned cash?
So in the same way as you would protect your home with the best locks possible make sure that you choose strong passwords which are not easy to guess from for example your social media profiles, and like you would keep the chain on your door to verify the identity of someone knocking on it before you let them in make sure that you check the identity of anyone asking you for personal information first and do not enter your payment details unless there is a padlock symbol in the browser window frame and the web address begins with https://

If you are missing your regular monthly statements, have noticed charges on your accounts that you don’t recognise, or have been contacted by a debt collection agency for items or services you have not received chances are you may be a victim of fraud.

If this does happen don’t ignore it as if you are credit blacklisted it can take many years to recover from this and it may make it difficult to obtain a mortgage or other credit. Start to rebuild your good name by obtaining a copy of your credit report from the various credit reference agencies such as Callcredit, Equifax or Experian so that you can find out if there is any bad data on your credit file as a result of the identity theft.

Once you have done this you could use our Identity Theft Recovery Pack which includes letters that are designed to help a user take appropriate action to correct bad data in their credit files. If, after your identity has been stolen, you could also ask for a Protective Registration from CIFAS, so that a warning will be recorded on the CIFAS database for your protection. Thereafter, whenever you seek credit, the lender or insurance provider will see the message “CIFAS-DO NOT REJECT-REFER FOR VALIDATION” and will make further enquiries.

CIFAS Protective Registration is available for a small fee. As a result of the entry, the lender or insurance provider will verify further the identity of an applicant, and in some cases request further proof of identification. A CIFAS Protective Registration may mean that you and members of your household experience delays while your credentials are fully checked out. But you may feel that it is worth these delays for the additional protection CIFAS Protective Registration gives you against repeated identity theft.

For more information, check out our law guide.