How careful are you with your personal information? Worryingly, I've seen identity theft mentioned three times this past week alone in the news and press. The BBC recently said that cases of identity theft have risen by more than a third this year alone.
Identity theft is where someone will obtain and use your personal data for personal gain. This could, for example, include using someone else's name, date of birth or other information in order to obtain credit or services, such as store or credit cards.
How To Avoid Identity Theft
- Shredding is your friend! Always shred anything, anything that has your full name and address, or any other identifying information, before you put it into the bin or trash. Criminals go through bins in the hopes of finding valuable paperwork such as invoices, utility bills and bank statements etc. Always shred paperwork when it is no longer required. Are you aware that many stores will accept these documents as proof of your identity/residence (without any accompanying photo ID) and a criminal could apply for and be accepted for a store card on the spot, make purchases and disappear... guess where the bill would be sent?
- Use A Cross Cut Shredder. A cross cut shredder will cut paper into tiny squares instead of strips and so conceal far more of the shredded document.
- Keep any necessary personal documents safe. Don't allow anyone access to items such as passports, birth certificates, national insurance cards or anything else that a fraudster could use. In order to create copies and so pass themselves off as you, all a criminal needs are a few, tiny pieces of information, such as the number on your passport, your full name or date of birth etc. Don't make it easy for them.
- Be mindful of what you carry. Only have in your handbag/purse/wallet what you need that day. Don't carry anything you won't need. Off to work and no plans to go shopping? Then why would you have your credit card with you? If it's in your bag, it can be stolen. Limit potential losses honeys.
- Watch your handbag. Know exactly where it is every moment you're outside your home. How often have you sat down in a cafe and placed your handbag at your feet? Or been in a supermarket and placed your handbag in or on the seat of the shopping cart/trolley and occasionally wandered away from it to pick something from a shelf? These are golden opportunities for criminals.
- Beware of pick pockets. Pick pocketing is on the rise again, certainly in our area, and yet the number of customers in store who place their purse/wallet down on the checkout next to them while they pack their shopping or mothers who put their card/change into their purse and then instead of putting their coin purse away safely just sit in on the hood/canopy of their pushchair.pram and walk away with it in plain sight is shocking. It's not just the money in your purse/wallet that's valuable honeys, driving licenses and ID cards are valuable to thieves too and will be sold on.
- Be very mindful when using an ATM machine to withdraw cash. It is now, unfortunately, approaching common place for ATM machines to have an almost invisible skimming/cloning mechanism fitted to it which will collect the data from your card as well as your pin number. A new cloned card will then be made and can be used to access your account. General advice given to avoid this is to carefully look at the machine before using it and to hide the key pad with your hand before typing in your pin but it's far safer, when you can, to just go inside the bank instead. You can read more about card skimming and cloning here honeys.
- Sign up for online banking and paperless billing. In addition make sure passwords are kept secure and also that passwords are never shared. Going paperless has the added advantage of having less mail to sort and, of course, less shredding to do.
- Check bank/credit card statements regularly. Whether you bank online or not, always always, always check your statements for any irregularities such as any charges you don't recognize. Criminals don't always take large sums from a compromised account, sometimes they'll remove smaller amounts frequently because smaller amounts are less likely to be picked up immediately and by the time the victim notices a large sum can have already been stolen. Be diligent.
- Don't share too much on social media. Never share middle names, dates of birth or parents names. It's nice to have birthday greetings on Facebook of course but remove or change the year of your birth. Many people use their mothers maiden name or their pets name as a password, don't! A brief skim of your social media will divulge a great deal of information and it will be used, not just to check for passwords but can also be used to set up new accounts, take out loans or buy goods online that you are completely unaware of! Resist the temptation to over share.
- Never carry your passport to use as a form of ID. I work in retail and the sheer numbers of people who, when asked for ID in order to purchase age restricted goods, such as alcohol, tobacco or even DVDs, will hand over their passport! Please don't do this honeys. It's very unsafe to carry your passport around and if stolen not only can your identity be misused but it's also expensive and time consuming to replace. Instead if you are lucky enough to look under the age of 25, please consider applying for a PASS card. In the UK it is possible to apply for this much safer alternative which has minimal information but has a photograph and a hologram across it. These cards are free and can be obtained easily. All you have to provide is a photograph, the pass application form and bring a suitable form of identification to show the person processing it. You'll find full details about the PASS card scheme here.
- Never give out personal information over the phone or to cold callers. Your bank will never ask you for your password over the phone, nor will they ever arrange for a courier to pick up your bank card or anything else from your home. Another popular scam is this one. Never give personal information over the phone or to cold callers who come to your home even if they have ID or claim to be from an organization you would trust such as the police. Fit a strong chain to your door and use it when home alone to avoid forced entry.
- Keep Security software up to date. This will help to prevent cyber crime such as computer viruses or programes which can track your keyboard strikes. You can read more here honeys.
- Be aware of what's in the photos you share online. Everyone loves to share what they're doing or important life events online but are your selfies giving away too much information? Is there a street name in the background which could be used to identify your home? Have you just gotten a new car and want to share the good news with friends? Never allow your cars registration plate to be seen online.
- Never share your national insurance number. This number is entirely unique to you and can be very valuable to fraudsters. Never share.
- Always ask to keep your hard drive when replacing an old computer or laptop. Chances are there is a wealth of personal information on this, especially if you have online banking, and even if the hard drive is scrubbed this information is able to be recovered. There are companies who can destroy hard drives securely.
- Keep passwords secure and change them frequently. Use a mixture of upper and lower case letters and numbers. There are online password generators which can help. You can find one here. As I've already said, but it bears repeating, never use middle names, your mothers maiden name or pets names and never, never, never share passwords with anyone!
- Password protect your phone. Anyone can swipe the little padlock to one side and gain access to all of your data, password protect honeys!
- Be mindful when shopping online. Always ensure that the site you're buying from is secure. It will have the little padlock somewhere in your browser window or the address may begin with https:// with the "s" meaning the site is secure. You can read more about this here.
- Check your credit report regularly. At least once a year, and with a credible agency such as Equifax or Experian. Both companies will try to ask you to sign up to a monthly plan but they both offer a one off credit report for a single payment of £2. Checking your credit report not only allows you to check for any irregularities, such as unknown credit arrangements taken out in your name but can also allow you to take steps to improve your credit rating and so be able to obtain lower interest rates on mortgages etc.