It makes sense to get wise to the dirty tactics played by the Identity fraudsters and start protecting your identity by following our finance tips to protect your finances today.It’s never been more gruelling to stay ahead of the criminals who compete to steal your ID, take over your accounts and run up debts in your name. From the moment your post is delivered in the morning to the time you log off a favourite social network at night, there are hazards built into your routine. Getting past them safely is a 21st century equivalent of winning an old-fashioned obstacle race.
Here’s what to look out for – and how to make it safely through.
Picking up the post
The most common way to steal an ID is to hijack a victim’s current address – and post. This accounted for 36 per cent of all cases in 2008, according to research from the ID fraud protection service CreditExpert. Close behind came frauds using the victim’s previous address, at 30 per cent, while in 29 per cent of cases crooks forwarded post.
The haul can be impressive, from bank and credit card statements to catalogue account details, utility and mobile airtime bills. Armed with this information, it’s easy to impersonate you, clean out your accounts, max out your cards and acquire money, goods and services that will never be paid for.
What to do:
- If post you expect doesn’t arrive, inform the Royal Mail and the senders as soon as possible
If you live in a building with a communal delivery point, install lockable, individual mail boxes
Always redirect your post for at least a year when your move home – a single errant letter could be enough to get an ID fraudster started
Checking your e-mails
We’ve all had phishing e-mails – they get past even the most efficient spam filters. Some tell you that you’ve won a fortune in a lottery. Others offer you a cut of a massive inheritance if you help to get it out of some distant country. A third variety masquerades as coming from your bank or card issuer and redirects you to a website where you are asked to input account and personal data “to update your account security.”
All of them aim to gather data that can be used to steal your money and trash your credit status.
What to do:
- Delete unsolicited e-mails immediately – 99 per cent of us fail to observe this simple precaution, according to a recent survey by PC Tools
- Alert any organisation a dubious e-mail purports to come from, using the phone number or e-mail address you already have or one you look up on the Internet – contact information in the e-mail or website could send you straight back to the criminals
- Never click on links in these e-mails – you could unwittingly give a virus access to your computer and all the information in it, especially if you’re one of the 43 per cent of us who either have no security software installed or never update it
On the move with your mobile or laptop
Increasingly, we’re always online, whether via our mobiles or laptops but that makes us vulnerable. Texts can be infected and allow the sender to take over your phone, wi-fi can be eavesdropped and sensitive information can be memorised or photographed by the stranger who gets a bit close in the rush hour.
What to do:
- Avoid accessing your online bank, paying bills or sending payment data in a public place – you could be overlooked
- Don’t use public wi-fi when you’re dealing with sensitive information, whether that’s personal details or work projects
- Don’t store passwords or PINs where they can be found if your device is lost or stolen
Putting out the rubbish
A clear-out is good for the soul and the temptation is to throw out anything and everything that’s out of date. But think before you fill the bin – criminals have been known to go through the rubbish in search of useful documents.
What to do:
- Shred or burn anything that could be useful to an ID thief, such as bank or card statements and bills
- Cut your full name, address and account number out of catalogues before you put them in the recycling – you don’t want a criminal hijacking your account
- Don’t put your rubbish out overnight – minimise the time that it’s vulnerable by waiting until the bin men are in the street
Millions of us log on every day to catch up with our real and virtual friends, share jokes, hear the latest gossip and debate the trends. It’s a liberating environment where you can be as glamorous, witty and intimate as you like.
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let slip information that’s a gift to an ID thief. Organised gangs now patrol the most popular networking sites, hoping to hoover up details that will allow them to take over our finances.
What to do:
- Use the privacy settings, so only your real friends have access to anything you wouldn’t want the world to know
- It’s not a competition to have the most “friends” – turn away total strangers and check with friends if newcomers claim to have been referred by them
- Don’t give too much away – nicknames, dates of birth, children’s and pets names and anything else that you use as a PIN or password shouldn’t be publicly accessible
If you only do one thing to stay safe…
Check your credit report regularly – it’s recommended by the Home Office as an effective precaution against ID fraud.
Your credit report contains the history of your credit accounts, from credit cards debts and loans to catalogue and mobile airtime accounts. It includes details of new applications, your repayment record, your address and more, so it’s easy to spot suspicious items – such as a new account you didn’t open or a balance that has suddenly soared. Then you can act fast to stop problems developing.
You can see your Experian credit report for free with a 30-day trial of CreditExpert. You’ll also be alerted to any significant changes to your credit report that could indicate ID fraud – and you’ll gain peace of mind.
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