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    Paule's Avatar

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    Default Identity Theft - How to prevent it and what to do if it happens to you

    Identity Theft and How to Prevent it

    If one crime has come to dominate the digital age, it's identity theft. It can lead into a nightmare of bureaucracy, trying to claw back the person you are and regaining control of your bank accounts and credit. Whilst it's impossible to completely stop the possibility of identity theft - sometimes the factors are far beyond your control - you can lessen the likelihood of it happening to you and your family.

    The Two Types of Identity Theft

    Identity theft happens when someone has enough information about you to pose as you. Thieves can use that in a couple of different ways. There's the "account takeover," where a criminal will simply use your existing bank account and credit card, running up large bills. Then there's "application fraud," where a thief takes your information and opens new accounts in your name. This can take longer to detect, because the address given to companies probably won't be your real one.

    How Identities are Stolen


    It's surprisingly and scarily easy to obtain someone's credit card number or even some of their bank details. That loan application you filled out then threw in the bin? There's a goldmine on that paper. The old credit card slips you tossed into the rubbish? That's the key to your money. Ever had someone stand a bit too close at the ATM? They could be "shoulder surfing" - watching as you entered your PIN. What about those pre-approved credit card offers you received? Imagine if someone took one, filled it in and returned it, simply changing the address…it might be months before you knew. You've certainly received e-mails purporting to be from your bank, credit card company or another financial institution, wanting you to click on a link then verify all your details. How do you know they're real? You could have been the victim of a scam called "phishing" (pronounced fishing), and your identity has gone. Never forget something as obvious as a stolen wallet - think what that little piece of leather can reveal about you.

    Really imaginative criminals can find out a lot about you online, from public records or even sites where you have to pay for information. By posing as your employer, they might be able to contact a credit bureau and gain access to your credit record and details. Finally, there's your personnel file at work, which contains plenty of information about you. The point is, for anyone who's determined, stealing an identity isn't going to be that difficult - unless you make it that way.

    What to Do

    The first thing is to know what you've got. Make a list of all your credit and debit cards, including their contact telephone numbers, and keep it in a safe place. Never carry more than two credit cards and a debit card with you, in case of theft. If you're going to be around people - in a city centre, for instance - keep your wallet in a less accessible place. Whenever you use an ATM, use your hand to shield you PIN number. Below are some things you should consider:
    • Get your credit report at least once a year, and study it carefully. If there's any suspicious activity, report it immediately. Review your bank and credit card statements monthly.
    • When you're using your card in a shop, watch as it's swiped, to ensure the clerk doesn't try to also run it through a "skimmer" that stores your information. Always take the receipt with you - don't throw it into the rubbish!
    • Buy a shredder. It's a perfect, secure way to dispose of those credit card receipts and financial junk mail. On top of that, the results are 100% recyclable. If you're expecting a card in the post and it doesn't arrive in a reasonable amount of time, contact the institution.
    • If someone calls claiming to be from your bank or credit card company, never give out any personal information on the phone. Only do that if you initiated the call, and you're certain that the person you're talking to is a legitimate employee of the company. Take nothing on trust.
    • The same applies on the online world. If you get an e-mail asking you to verify your information, don't click on the link. Instead, open your web browser and type in the proper address of the company (a search engine can find it for you). It might take longer, but it's a lot safer.
    • Make sure your computer has good anti-virus and firewall programmes to prevent hacking or spyware. Run a scan at least once a week.
    • Please don't use the same password for everything. Make them a mix of letters and numbers, and keep them memorised.
    • If you're making an online transaction, be certain it's secure (using https://www.....) with a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen. If it's not, don't proceed. Pay with a credit, rather than debit, card. It offers you greater financial protection in case of fraud.
    • Beware of those file-sharing programmes. You might be able to download music and moves, but others can also reach inside your computer. That alone is a good reason to password protect any files you have with personal and financial data.
    Essentially, all it takes is a mix if caution, common sense and a suspicious mind. You can't be too careful. But then again, it's your identity that you're protecting.

    Stolen Identity: What To Do

    No matter what you do to prevent it, you can't entirely eliminate the possibility of identity theft. If it happens to you, it can wreak havoc on your personal finances. One in four adults in Britain have either been a victim or know someone who has, and the awareness of identity theft continues to rise. Working your way through the tangles that follows identity theft isn't easy. According to some statistics, it can take up to 300 hours of work to clear your name. But these tips can help make the journey to reclaiming yourself quicker and less stressful.

    How Do You Know Your Identity Has Been Stolen?

    You might apply for a loan and find yourself unexpectedly rejected. There might be unusual activity in your bank accounts or on your credit cards. Possibly your credit card company might contact you, or you receive bills on accounts you've never opened. It might even be the official agency, CIFAS, getting in touch to inform you that you've become a victim. However it happens, once you know the score you need to start work immediately to fight back

    First Things First


    If you're a victim of identity theft, the very first thing to do is contact the police and make a report. Having that crime reference number is a vital preliminary step, proving to banks, credit card companies and others that you've begun to take action.

    Change all the passwords on your computer. Don't use the same password for everything, and make it a mix of letters and numbers. Make sure you have a good firewall and virus protection (you can get both for free online, although make sure you do your research first). Run full scans and update your anti virus regularly - daily is best. This may prove to be bolting the stable door after the horse has gone, but it will help eliminate any repetitions.

    Next

    Contact everyone with whom you do financial business. That's not simply your bank and credit card companies, but all your direct debits, loans and creditors. Contact them in writing, quoting your crime reference number. Keep copies of all your correspondence, along with careful notes of all conversations on the matter (include time and date). Cancel your credit cards, changing account numbers, and the same applies to your bank accounts.

    You also need to write to the credit reference agencies. Request a copy of your credit file (it costs £2), and challenge all items that don't seem correct. Inform them that you've been a victim of identity theft and have a fraud alert placed on your account.

    You can check the status of your credit rating with any one of a number of Credit Reference Agencies.

    It's possible that whoever stole your identity has committed crimes whilst posing as you. When contacting the police, have them check your criminal record and see that any false convictions are erased. This may involve being photographed or fingerprinted and possibly hiring an attorney, but it's worth the effort. Additionally, contact the Passport Service and the DVLA.

    If you suspect you're not receiving your post, make sure you're in touch with the Royal Mail. They have a unit to investigate suspected mail theft and can check to see if a redirection order has been placed on your address.

    You should also register with CIFAS Protective Registration Service. You can place a registration with the not-for-profit on your own address when you have reason to believe you're a victim of fraud.

    Be Prepared to Put in the Time

    You won't reverse the damage caused by identity theft overnight. It's going to take months of work and letter writing. However, don't be discouraged. You will get yourself back, and as the crime becomes more prevalent, steps are being taken to speed up the process. It's a scary, often nightmarish time, but you will come out the other side intact.
    Last edited by Paule; 15th October 2007 at 11:32:AM. Reason: added what to do section

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Identity Theft - How to prevent it and what to do if it happens to you

    Identity fraud can happen when:

    • Fraudsters use a false identity or somebody else’s identity details to obtain goods or services by deception
    • Criminals use genuine but falsely obtained documents, such as other people’s passports or national insurance cards, to travel or to get public sector and welfare services
    • Identity information belonging to an individual or organisation is used to open accounts or apply for credit
    • A fraudster uses identity details to produce counterfeit documents.


    Fraudsters can use your identity details to:

    • Open bank accounts
    • Obtain credit cards, loans and state benefits
    • Order goods in your name
    • Take over your existing accounts
    • Obtain genuine documents such as passports and driving licences in your name.

    Stealing an individual’s identity details does not, on its own, constitute identity fraud. But using that identity for any of the above activities does.

    If you think you have been a victim of fraud:
    Report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk
    Any opinions I give are my own. Any advice I give is without liability. If you are unsure, please seek qualified legal advice.

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