Identity Fraud: What To Do If It Happens To You

Posted by George Coburn in Identity Theft on 6 February 2018 - George is a Credit Analyst at checkmyfile

Year on year, there has been a substantial rise in the number of identity fraud cases being reported to organisations such as Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service. It’s no real surprise when you consider the crime can be committed from the comfort of someone’s home without ever having to risk showing their face.

According to Cifas, there were around 89,000 cases of identify fraud reported in the first half of 2017. Even so, the chances of you falling victim to this kind of crime are still relatively small and there are plenty of steps you can take to help keep your personal information secure and reduce your chances of falling victim. At the same time, if you are unlucky enough to fall foul, what steps should you take?

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What are the most common techniques that fraudsters use?

There are a number of different ways that a fraudster will attempt to get access to your personal information, but some common examples are:

Mail interception

Shared post-boxes or communal hallways are a real point of weakness, where post could be left lying around for someone to intercept. Another way post might be intercepted is where you have failed to update your address with an organisation when you move house, meaning that statements or other potentially sensitive information is sent to an address you no longer live at.

If your post is getting intercepted, you may not be aware of the crime for several months or until you notice unexpected entries on your credit report/bank statement.

Phishing schemes

Scam emails, letters, or texts that prompt you to disclose personal information (often under the guise of important updates to your account or security checks) could gather all the data a fraudster needs to gain access to your finances; often they will even ask you to provide payment details, taking money straight from your account.

Cold-calling

Cold-calling is essentially the phone version of phishing; asking you to provide personal information that could be used to access your finances. It’s not unusual for these to seem like any other call to your bank or utilities provider hoping to get information including your address, date of birth and some security questions. When dealing with these phone calls, ask yourself: if your bank is calling you about something urgent, wouldn’t they have most of your details in front of them already?

With all unsolicited contact from companies, a simple rule of thumb applies. If you’re in any doubt at all about their authenticity, don’t provide any information, hang up and get in touch with the company on a recognised phone number, if possible using a different phone. In some cases, if a caller stays on the line even after you’ve hung up, you will be reconnected with them when you try and call another number. Ask them to verify that it was them that contacted you, and if it wasn’t provide details of what you were asked for so that they are aware of the fraudulent attempt.

In our experience, a fraudster’s overall goal is either to attempt to compromise your existing credit agreements and transfer money out, or try and create new accounts in your details, with the aim of running up debts. The first you may hear about it is when a surprising transaction on your bank statement appears, you get a letter welcoming you to a service you know nothing about, or when you check your credit report and see activity you don’t recognise.

Purchasing your details from the Dark Web

Personal information, often stolen en masse by hackers or obtained using the techniques highlighted above, is routinely traded by criminals on the dark web. Rather than attempt to steal identities or funds directly, the data is sold to other criminals in a highly organised and profitable network. Email addresses, passwords and personal information such as your mother’s maiden name are just some of the details that are traded.

What should you do if you are the victim of identity fraud?

Identity fraud is a fast-moving crime, so by the time you realise it has happened, the perpetrators are often long-gone, which is why it’s important to try and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Dealing with the matter swiftly can help save you a bigger headache further down the line, but it’s important to stay calm and tackle it in a considered manner.

It’s worth remembering that most financial institutions have fraud protection schemes in place, and if you are out of pocket – assuming you’ve not been negligent – you won’t be left out of pocket.

If identity fraud does go ignored, you run the risk of finding yourself in a situation where you are declined for credit or worse, are held accountable for someone else’s spending.

If you discover that you have been a victim, we recommend the following:

  • Contact any business that has taken funds from your account that you do not recognise, ask them to not take any further payments and mark the account that used your information as fraudulent
  • Contact your card issuer and make them aware that you have been the victim of fraud – you’re likely to get new cards issued and your account will be subject to increased security checks for a while
  • Keep a close eye on your credit report, and look out for new credit accounts or searches that you don’t recognise
  • If you think there’s any further risk to you, use Cifas’ Protective Registration or alternatively use a Notice of Correction to prevent credit lenders giving a loan to the wrong person

It’s also worth reporting the matter to the Police via Action Fraud. Identity fraud is massively unreported so the more people that confirm they’ve been a victim of it the better.

Preventing Identity Fraud

Even though the technology may have changed, the starting point of Identity Fraud remains the same: your basic personal details are the key to everything. Keep this information secure and make sure it is only ever given to trusted sources and you should be safe.

Here are some additional ways to keep your information safe that you might not have thought of:

  • Only hand over your passport, driving license or birth certificate to trusted sources, and even then make sure it’s only temporarily. Any important documentation should be as Recorded Delivery.
  • Try to keep information out of your purse or wallet if possible to minimise damage if it’s lost – your mobile phone number or a business card should be all the information needed to return it to you. Keep sensitive information at home, in a locked container if possible.
  • Avoid keeping your driving license about your person: it’s got your name, address and date of birth on it and if the Police need to see it, you have a week to hand it in at the nearest station, so there’s no reason to have it on you at all times.
  • Shred or burn documents or switch to online-only statements when possible so there’s one less source to find information.
  • Check account statements regularly: if monthly payments are being made from your account it might be a small amount, which can be harder to spot at first.
  • Only carry the payment cards you need and ask to have your spending limits lowered if you do not use the amount of monthly credit offered.
  • Consider using different cards for different purposes e.g. one for petrol, one for shopping. That way if a card is used fraudulently, it will be easy to locate the source.
  • Use different passwords for each website you use and make sure they’re never anything that could be guessed or worked out. The two most common passwords of 2017 were “123456” and “password” respectively. Don’t be that person.
  • Think about the information listed on you on social media: birthdates, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses can all be made publicly visible on the most popular social media platforms, but that doesn’t mean you should share that information with the world.
  • Check your credit report regularly to see if any credit has been taken out in your name – this information can take between 4-6 weeks to show up after an account has been opened in your name, which is why it’s important to keep an eye open.
  • Stay away from smaller credit companies that may not report your payments to credit reference agencies – it will be harder to spot cases of fraud if they do not appear on your credit report.

With checkmyfile you are able to monitor any credit accounts reported by Callcredit and Equifax, as well as any credit applications made with Callcredit, Equifax and Experian.

If you are moving or have just moved home, make sure that utility providers and relevant parties have been informed of your new address to make sure as little post is sent to your old address as possible. You can have your post redirected to your new address by the Post Office, or alternatively use ScanMyPost.co.uk to digitise and email or securely text your post to you.

If you feel you are at a heightened risk for becoming a victim of Identity Fraud, you can apply for Protective Registration with Cifas. By doing this, an alert is placed on your credit file with each of the credit reference agencies that would alert future lenders accessing your details. Lenders would then make any credit check subject to further checks so they can be sure it was you who made the application. Rest assured that you cannot be declined credit as a result of Protective Registration but it will delay any application made while your identity is verified.

Protective Registration lasts for two years and costs £20, but alternatively you can place a notice of correction on your credit file for free and works the same way. Unlike Protective Registration it lasts indefinitely and you will have to ask to have it removed when you feel you are no longer vulnerable to fraud. It will also be visible anyone searching your credit report, rather than just Cifas members.

Can my identity be stolen with just my name and address?

With just your name and address to go by, it’s unlikely someone could open a credit account in your name, and without your bank details, they can’t withdraw money from your account. In fact to commit fraud, so many pieces of personal information are required that around 50% of the time fraud is carried out by someone you know.

A name and address can be used as a starting point for someone determined enough, however the amount of legwork required to get the remaining details needed these details can help them piece together information about you from other sources.

Even if you haven’t been the victim of fraud, prevention is the most effective defence and being aware what information you share about yourself, either online, over the phone or even in person, can help stop identity fraud in its tracks. Failing that, awareness of your accounts & finances and acting in a measured manner as soon as you notice anything suspicious should minimise any damage.

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