Protecting Your Identity

What is your identity worth?

Quite a lot, so it seems, yet what steps do you take to protect it? Every year the number of cases of identity theft grows and some high-profile cases have reached the newspapers and television documentaries. Nevertheless, the attitude of most individuals is ‘it won’t happen to me’. Why not? How do you guard against it?

What is identity theft anyway? Well, basically it’s the process of someone taking over your name and other personal information and using that information to their financial advantage and at your expense. Commonly, this involves credit card fraud on an existing account but other examples include someone with a poor credit history using your name to open a new card account, taking loans, establishing a rental contract for a mobile ‘phone, entering into a lease of premises and ultimately filing for bankruptcy using your name. New or replacement driving licences and passports are also major outcomes of identity theft.

How do they do all that and where do they get their information? Well, from obvious sources. Clearly stealing from your credit card or wallet is one prime source, but you are likely to notice that and cancel your cards. However, would they know if they used your details to open new accounts? Rifling your rubbish or intercepting your mail is very easy eg by completing change of address forms that you have discarded. ‘Skimming’ your card details from a legitimate purchase for onward sale to a fraudster is another common method.

What are the consequences of someone stealing your identity? Simply put, there could be financial loss but there are wider implications. You could, for example, find yourself blacklisted because of default by the thief and you may be unable to obtain credit in future. Driving convictions, fines and even imprisonment are not unheard of. The difficulties associated with trying to correct problems associated with identity theft are immense.

While the consequences of identity theft can be serious, there are some very simple steps you can take to reduce the chances of it happening to you:

  • Take great care in how you dispose of card receipts. A lot of systems today print only a series of * followed by the last 4 digits of your card number. Older systems print the card number in full.
  • Do regularly check your card and other statements and query any item you are not sure about.
  • If you receive correspondence that looks as if its incorrect, don’t assume it’s ‘just an error’ –check with the issuer.
  • Don’t enter your card details on a computer screen if someone could be looking over your shoulder.
  • Regularly change your passwords.
  • Don’t use internet sites that are not secure. Check for the padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen.
  • Be careful how you dispose of card statements, junk mail and other correspondence. Invest in a shredder –at £5.99 for a manual one and under £20 for a powered version, every home should have one.
  • Obtain and check your own credit reference report at least every 6 months. These are very cheap and an excellent safeguard. An agency that offers this consumer service is Experian at www.experian.co.uk.consumer/index.html