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What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when a person’s personal details are stolen, and can happen whether that person is alive or dead.
Identity thieves can steal your personal information in a number of ways, including going through your post or rubbish to find bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers or tax information.
They could steal personal information from your wallet or purse by taking a driving licence, or credit or bank cards, or could obtain your credit report by posing as someone who has a lawful right to the information.
Some individuals may use the internet to acquire the personal information you share on unsecured sites. They may also use
Your information could even be stolen while you shop. In some cases, fraudsters may even ‘skim’ your credit card information when you make a purchase, leading to card cloning or card-not-present fraud.
What is identity fraud?
Identity fraud is the use of a stolen identity to obtain goods or services by deception.
The first you learn of ID fraud could be when you get a bill or invoice for something you haven’t ordered, or when you have letters from debt collectors for debts that aren’t yours.
Fraudsters can use your identity details to:
- open a bank account
- obtain credit cards, loans and state benefits
- order goods in your name
- take over your existing accounts
- take out a mobile phone contract
- obtain genuine documents, such as passports and driving licences, in your name.
Using a stolen identity for any of the above activities is identity fraud and a criminal offence.
Avoid identity theft and identity fraud
Identity theft can happen by taking documents from your rubbish bin, or by making contact with you and pretending to be from a legitimate organisation.
There are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself against identity fraud:
- If you receive an unsolicited email or phone call from what appears to be your bank or building society asking for your security details, never reveal your full password, login details or account numbers.
- A bank will never ask for your Pin, or for a whole security number or password, either over the phone or via email. You will never need to share these details with anyone.
- Create strong passwords for use online, and don’t use the same one for every website you log in to. If you struggle to keep track of your passwords, you might benefit from using a password manager. Read our reviews on the best password managers to find the most suitable one for you.
- Protect your internet-connected devices with up-to-date security software, and make sure you install all official software updates and security fixes on such devices.
- Don’t leave things like bills lying around for others to see.
- Don’t throw out anything containing your name, address or financial details without shredding it.
- If you’re expecting a bank or credit card statement and it doesn’t arrive, tell your bank or card company.
- If you move house, ask Royal Mail to redirect your post for at least a year.
- Don’t accept invitations from people you don’t know on social media sites. It’s also a good idea to create separate work and personal profiles.
- Double-check that your social media profiles are private so that you only sharing information with people you know.
- Don’t post any pictures showing your car number plate. Fraudsters could use this to illicitly obtain your address from DVLA records.
- Be careful when using public wi-fi networks. Never use them to access sensitive apps or sites, such as mobile banking.
Cifas protective registration service
If you're worried your personal details have been stolen, you've noticed any unusual account activity, or you've dealt with an organisation that's recently lost or leaked sensitive data, you may be at risk of becoming a victim of identity fraud.
Cifas offers a protective registration service which places a flag alongside your name and personal details in its secure National Fraud Database, costing £25 for two years.
The idea is that companies and organisations who are signed up as members of the database will see you’re at risk and take extra steps to protect you, preventing fraudsters from using your details to apply for products and services.
Report identity fraud
If your identity has been stolen, you should contact your bank, credit card company and the local police on the non-emergency phone number, 101, as soon as possible to let them know the situation.
You can also report the fraud via Action Fraud, the police’s fraud-reporting service.