Between January and July this year, 33,305 people had their identity stolen by criminals who took out credit cards in their name, new figures from fraud-prevention organisation Cifas show.
This type of fraud has increased by 12% since the same period in 2017, now accounting for 39% of all identity fraud cases.
This is despite the fact that incidents of identity fraud have decreased overall.
Which? explains how this kind of fraud takes place, and how to keep your identity safe.
How do criminals steal personal data?
While identity fraud is on the decline, plastic card fraud has shot up, Cifas reports, mainly due to the ease with which criminals can access personal data.
The prevalence of sensitive information being sold on the dark web has increased, with recent research suggesting that it’s possible to purchase someone’s entire personal identity for just £744.30.
To open a credit card account, a fraudster only needs your name, date of birth, address and the banks you hold an account with.
Data like this can get into the wrong hands from people accidentally revealing too much information on social media, or not having strong passwords to protect their accounts from being hacked.
Scammers also catch people out by posing as their bank and tricking them into giving out personal information, as well as simply stealing items of post – for example, where mail is left unattended in shared areas of flats, for instance, or by rifling through rubbish where post hasn’t been shredded.
Opening up a credit card with a stolen identity means that the criminals can go on spending sprees, racking up thousands of pounds of debt in someone else’s name, then moving onto the next victim whenever the card gets maxed out or blocked.
- Find out more: Best banks for dealing with fraud
How to protect yourself against credit card fraud
While fraudsters are quickly adapting to the various changing behaviours and security measures put in place, there are still plenty of ways to keep your money and identity safe.
- Beware public wi-fi – fraudsters can hack and mimic public wi-fi providers. If you do log on, try to avoid using banking apps or anything that might leave your financial data vulnerable.
- Keep up to date with software updates – these often add improved security features to keep your data safe.
- Keep track of your post – make sure you redirect your mail whenever you move home, and try to ensure your postbox is secure. Sometimes a name and current address is all a fraudster needs to open a fake account.
- Install antivirus software on your laptop and other devices – this reduces the chances of hackers being able to gain access to your personal information.
- Stay password savvy – make sure all online accounts (social media, online shopping, email accounts etc), and devices are protected by effective passwords. Cifas recommends picking three random words and splitting them up with numbers and symbols.
- Don’t forget social media – any details you share, such as your date of birth and address, can be used by fraudsters. Even old accounts could still contain sensitive information about you, so look into whether you’ve left a ‘digital footprint’ online – see what shows up when you enter your name into several search engines. If there’s anything sensitive or out of date, get it deleted.
Find out more: What is identity theft?
What to do if you think you’re a victim of fraud
In many instances, people are often unaware that their data has been stolen for fake accounts until they receive a letter from a bank or credit card provider they haven’t opened an account with, or start having trouble with their credit score.
- If you receive any letters that suggest you have an account that you haven’t opened, don’t ignore it. Call the bank involved to notify them, so they can place a block on your account. It may be necessary to put extra security measures in place for when you apply for a new account in future.
- Get a copy of your credit report, as this will list all accounts that have been opened under your name. If you see an account or even a credit search from a company that you have not asked for, notify the credit reference agency.
- Report the crime to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or online at actionfraud.police.uk
- If you think your post has been stolen or redirected, contact Royal Mail to rectify this.
- Report all lost and stolen documents, such as passports or driving licences to the issuing organisations.
Find out more: There’s a transaction on my credit card I know nothing about
How credit card fraud can affect your credit score
If someone has fraudulently opened a credit card using your personal details, this will be recorded on your credit report.
While this can be a good way to track any fraudulent activity, it can affect your credit score and may make it difficult to open new accounts until everything has been rectified.
After contacting your bank and reporting the crime, credit score company Experian suggests contacting its victims of fraud team, which will communicate the fraudulent activity to other credit reference agencies, and make sure the incident does not affect your score.
Find out more: Why do I have a bad credit score?