Identity theft can be distressing and costly to sort out. Here’s what you need to know, and how to prevent it happening - online, on the phone, or in person.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when your personal and financial information is illegally obtained by fraud or deception – typically for financial gain.
Often information can be quite simple and seemingly harmless, such as:
Your date of birth
Mother’s maiden name
Your place of birth
Your middle name
And of course, there are the obviously sensitive details, such as:
Your bank PIN number
Bank account details
National Insurance number
Your credit card or debit card information
What can identity thieves do with this information?
The most common form of identity theft is financial fraud, which could include:
Opening a bank account in your name
Applying for credit and debit cards
Taking out loans
Hacking into your existing accounts
Buying things in your name
Taking out a contract using your identity (e.g. for a mobile phone)
But thieves have even been known to commit other sinister crimes, such as applying for benefits in your name or applying for a passport or driving licence.
9 ways you can protect your identity
Even the most diligent consumer can be targeted by fraud, but there are ways to help prevent it:
1. Never give out information willingly
Online or phone phishing scams are when emails are sent or calls are made to try and coax victims into giving out sensitive information. These can often be very convincing.
It’s worth noting that your bank will never ask you for your whole PIN number, password, login details or account numbers. If you’re at all suspicious of a phone call, ask if you can call them back on a phone number that you know is legitimate. Then only call them using a mobile phone or after calling a friend or relative, in case the original caller stays on the line.
This doesn’t just apply to emails and calls. Never disclose personal information such as your date of birth or your middle name on social media. One common mistake people make is to include their year of birth in their social media handle or email.
2. Be wary when accepting friend requests on Facebook
As well as only accepting people you actually know on Facebook, it’s also important to not immediately accept duplicate friend requests from people you do know. This is because fraudsters have been known to clone accounts by stealing personal information and then requesting their friends.
If you do receive a friend request from someone you’re already friends with, always double check that it’s really them, by contacting them through an email or phone number that you know is theirs.
3. Do a social media privacy check
Make sure that you’re not giving away any information publicly. All your settings should be set to private.
And double-check you’re not posting pictures that contain sensitive information such as your car licence plate number. This is in case someone duplicates your licence plate and incurs congestion zone charges, parking tickets or speeding offences in your name.
4. Always shred documents
Many types of identity theft can be done through the simple means of collecting papers thrown in your rubbish bin or recycling. Your date of birth, address, telephone numbers, and driver’s license number are all pieces of information easily found on letters, documents, bank statements and even pre-approved credit offers.
5. Create robust passwords
And try to vary passwords between sites. That way, if one site is hacked, your other passwords haven’t been compromised. There are various tools that will generate strong passwords randomly for you, such as: https://passwordsgenerator.net/
And never use obviously guessable password such as ‘12345’ or ‘password’. These will be the first things identity thieves will try. Also avoid making financial transactions on shared or public computers.
6. Be careful with your card
Criminals can clone your debit or credit card either at a shop, bar or restaurant. Don’t let your card out of sight and cover your PIN. Avoid using standalone ATMs or those in secluded outdoor areas, in case a skimming device has been added. You can check for signs of tampering by looking for different materials, colours and graphics that don’t appear original. If in doubt, move on.
Don’t leave bills and papers with sensitive information lying about at work or even at home. If you’re burgled these are easily swiped if they’re lying out on a table or visible through a window, for instance.
8. Beware of false gold
If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you receive an email claiming you're owed a refund, step carefully. Never automatically click on a link in an unexpected email or text.
9. Always keep your internet security updated
And that means on your computer, your phone and even your router. It’s also important to keep your phone software up to date as it contains vital security updates that help protect your devices from cyber criminals.
Invest in a wireless router with strong security features from a trusted vendor. Make sure your Wi-Fi access is restricted to known devices only, or make your network non-discoverable so that other devices cannot find it without knowing the network name.
Call your bank, building society or credit card provider immediately and explain the situation. They should be able to advise you on next steps.
Social media fraud
Report the issue immediately. All social media sites have a ‘report button’ where you can explain the problem. Find out more.
You should also contact the police on the non-urgent 101 number. And take a look at the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre Action Fraud. Here you can report fraud or cybercrime at any time, day or night, using its online reporting tool.
John Lewis Finance, John Lewis Home Insurance and John Lewis & Partners are all trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England and Wales (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc is an appointed representative of Munich Re Digital Partners Limited, a company authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to carry on insurance distribution activities.
John Lewis Finance, John Lewis Insurance and John Lewis & Partners are all trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England and Wales (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc is an appointed representative (Financial Conduct Authority no. 416011) of Covea Insurance plc which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (registration no. 202277). John Lewis Specialist Home Insurance is underwritten by Covea Insurance plc. Registered Office: Norman Place, Reading, Berkshire RG1 8DA. Registered in England and Wales (registration no. 613259).