Having someone else steal something from you is distressing. Whether it’s money or other possessions, there’s a natural feeling of loss and disturbance.
When it’s your actual identity that’s been stolen, it’s particularly upsetting.
Your identity – by definition – is unique to you. Money and possessions are tangible and can be replaced, but you only have one identity. So, to have someone take it from you – and pretend to be you – can be alarming and bewildering.
A survey carried out by online technology analysts, Cybercrew, found that there were 226,000 cases of identity theft in the UK in 2021 – and that’s just the number of reported cases. Given that figure, it’s likely that there were many other attempts that were not reported.
The survey also found that identity theft is on the rise, with the 2021 figure being 22% higher than the previous year.
So, read about how identity theft is carried out, how to spot it, and steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
The vast majority of identity theft is done online
The same survey you read about above confirmed that 91% of the reported incidents of identity theft were carried out online.
To be honest, that’s no real surprise – after all, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated. If you also factor in just how much of the day-to-day management of your finances takes place online, it’s not hard to explain why so much theft is carried out with a keyboard and laptop, rather than someone picking your pocket or burgling your home.
For example, it’s now possible to do all your banking online, with hardly any face-to-face interaction with your bank. So, whereas previously there may well have been actual identity checks to match you and your passport image, online communication now means that’s no longer the case.
An identity thief will utilise a number of methods to obtain personal information that they can then use to open accounts, sign up for loans, and apply for a passport in your name.
Recognising the signs of identity theft
Identity thieves will be well-organised and highly efficient.
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the information they can use, and to be vigilant so you have every chance of identifying the fact you’re being targeted as soon as possible.
For example, despite the great majority of identity theft happening online, there are some physical signs to look out for. These could include missing documents – such as your driving licence – and utility bills that normally come through the post not arriving.
As you’d imagine, there are also some online warning signs:
- Unexplainable credit card or bank spending
- Receiving official letters that you know nothing about – such as legal notifications
- Getting receipts for items you haven’t asked for
- Being refused credit cards or a loan, despite having a good credit rating.
Watching out for these signs in advance can help you react and protect your finances sooner if you’ve been targeted by a criminal.
Reduce your risk of falling victim to identity thieves
As with ordinary financial scams, the best way to reduce the chances of being targeted by identity thieves is to be aware that you could be targeted.
Scammers and thieves will rely on a lack of awareness, so just thinking about the possibility puts you in a strong position and makes having your identity stolen less likely.
Other straightforward steps you can take are:
- Storing your personal details in a secure place. This includes your driving licence, passport, and financial paperwork.
- Shredding sensitive papers rather than simply putting them in your recycling bin or throwing them away.
- Getting into the habit of regularly checking your bank and credit card statements. It’s good practice to do this anyway so you can identify any incorrect transactions, but identity theft makes it all the more prudent.
- If you’re shopping online, always look for the padlock symbol address field, and that any web address you use begins with “https”.
Finally, be on your guard if something doesn’t feel “right”. You may not be quite sure what the problem is, but it’s surprising how often your subconscious can warn you of a potential problem.
Be aware of key times when you’re vulnerable to identity theft
Given how central to your identity your home address is, it’s important to be aware of times when access to your address may make you vulnerable.
If you’re moving home, take stringent steps to make sure paperwork meant for you doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
Give your new address to anyone you think will need it – your bank, insurance providers, credit card companies and so on.
You can also redirect your mail by contacting Royal Mail.
If you’re going to be returning to Australia for an extended period of more than a couple of weeks, then take steps to protect your home and consider using the same Royal Mail redirection service, having your post forwarded to someone you trust.
If you think you’ve been targeted
If you think or suspect you are a victim of identity theft, it’s important to raise it with the relevant authorities as quickly as you can.
Check for lost or stolen documents, such as passports, driving licences, and credit cards. Always report the theft of such documents and suspicious activity to the police.
If you see any suspicious transactions on your bank account, speak to your bank immediately. Likewise, if your online login details appear to have been tampered with, change any passwords and check your accounts to ensure they haven’t been accessed.
Get in touch
If you need any help or advice regarding any aspect of your financial planning, please get in touch with us.
This article is for information only. Please do not solely rely on anything you have read in this article and ensure that you conduct your own research to ensure any actions you may take are suitable for your circumstances.