Identity theft: nine ways you are a target and how to protect yourself
Written by Duncan Taylor on November 27, 2017.
Identity theft is one of those things that most of us read about, worry about fleetingly and then put to the back of our minds thinking that it won’t happen to us. However the figures regarding this 21st century crime are startling. According to Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, 89,000 cases of identity theft occurred in the UK in the first half of 2017, almost 500 cases per day. That means that the likelihood of you becoming a victim is increasing.
There are so many different ways that you can become a target of identity theft but knowledge is power so I thought I’d list some of the main ones along with ways to protect yourself.
Credit card theft
The criminals don’t necessarily need the card itself, in this digital age it is the information on it that is useful to them. We use cards everywhere these days but the important thing is to swipe the card yourself where possible and certainly never let the card out of your sight.
We’ve all received the bogus email supposedly from a friend in trouble asking for money to be transferred urgently to them. You might be wise to those rather obvious attempts at phishing but criminals are becoming increasingly cunning and it’s far easier to fall for the email that looks like it’s from Amazon or the bank signalling a problem with your account. Be extremely wary of clicking on email links asking for personal information including credit card numbers, bank account numbers or your address. A bank or reputable seller simply won’t ask for information in this way. Check any suspicious looking mails by contacting the organisation who purportedly sent them.
So-called shoulder surfers might try and see your PIN as you enter it, so be wary of anyone standing too close and cover the screen with your hand when typing it in. A more sophisticated scam is skimming, when a device is discreetly fitted on to an ATM or other card reader enabling criminals to read your credit card information and your PIN. Avoid using anything which looks odd and rings alarm bells.
Identity thieves can intercept personal information from unsecure websites. When shopping online ensure that the site you are using starts with an https:// address accompanied by the closed padlock symbol at the left of the browser search box.
Media reports of big corporations being hacked are far from an uncommon occurrence. US credit rating company, Equifax, was the victim of a cyberattack in September 2017 which compromised the personal data of up to 44mn people in the UK. Banks and retail chains are vulnerable to attack and it could be your credit card and bank information that is leaked. If you are alerted to a security breach, confirm with the company involved whether your data is at risk and take relevant precautions such as cancelling your credit card and changing passwords.
Data breaches also occur on a personal level. You know all those warnings you ignore about setting strong passwords? You really should heed them. And certainly don’t use the same one for everything. Guilty? Here’s a link that gives you a system for creating unique passwords which you’ll actually remember!
Rubbish bins are a potential goldmine for identity thieves and are being targeted for discarded bills. Invest in a shredder and take the time to shred anything which features personal data such as bank accounts, social security documents, pay slips etc.
It is not unknown for fraudsters to steal bank statements and credit card statements directly from mailboxes. Secure your mailbox and keep a close eye on when your account statements should arrive. If you fail to receive any, contact the company concerned. And if you move house, be sure to redirect your post for at least a year as there have been cases of individuals using mail addressed to previous residents to gain credit.
This is the practice of of obtaining personal information under false pretences for example by calling a utility company or bank pretending to be you and stealing information that way. Companies are getting wise to it and increasingly ask for information to verify your identity but don’t just chuck those unopened statements and bills in a pile – check them carefully each month. Of course, if you do see suspicious activity on your accounts, contact the company immediately.
With so many ways to fall victim to identity theft it is clear that we must all take this threat very seriously, keep alert to the dangers and take precautions to protect our data. It is now also possible to take out insurance to protect against cyberattack – something worth thinking about to protect yourself financially against this 21st century problem.