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14 Sep 2017

ID Theft and How to Avoid It

by Richard Westell

The definition of ID theft is the deliberate use of someone else's identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person's name and perhaps to the other person's disadvantage or loss.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in ID theft as well as fraudulent activity as a result of ID theft. In 2016 there were 173,000 cases of ID theft, double the amount of cases in 2008. In the 18-25 age group, the increase is 34%.  This is primarily a result of increased use of the internet for banking, purchases and applying for credit.  Weak passwords, low privacy settings in social media and lack of malware, adware and spyware software use on our computers have all contributed to this increase.

There are many ways we can protect ourselves but first, we need to know how our identity is stolen in the first place:

  • Using unsecured websites for purchases. Always check that any purchases you make online are from companies using the prefix https on their web address. Reputable sales websites will offer some sort of identity theft protection service such as the Extended Validation Secure Server Security Certificate as used by Simply Safes.
  • Hacking. In recent years there has been a large increase in companies having their data hacked and through no fault of the consumer, their details have been stolen and in some cases used fraudulently. There is very little the consumer can do to avoid this happening, however, if you receive an email from a provider suggesting their data has been hacked, you may want to contact them on the phone to determine if you have had any monies removed from your account.
  • Identity thieves will target your rubbish. Ensure that all credit/store card junk mail is shredded before throwing away and never throw away existing bank/credit card statements directly into the rubbish bin. Switch to paperless invoices and statements to avoid receiving sensitive information through the post.
  • Phishing. It is relatively easy to fall for a phishing scam email. These will seem very genuine with company logos, official language and warnings of account hacking or even account blocking.   Never give out any personal information asked for in an email or use a link sent in an email to take you to the site that the email is supposedly from. No bank/credit card/store card/debit card company will ask for any personal information via email. If in doubt, close the email and contact the provider on the telephone. Only ever give partial passwords to anyone over the telephone (most companies will ask for characters within your password, they will never ask for an entire password).
  •  ‘Shoulder Surfing’. This the term used to describe when you are entering your PIN into an ATM or payment machine and someone is watching your number being entered over your shoulder. Be wary when entering your PIN or use contactless payment services where possible.
  • Skimming. When paying for a meal in a restaurant always ask the waiter to bring the card terminal machine to your table and enter your details there and then. Never allow a third party to use your card on your behalf as this can result in your details being ‘skimmed’ from your card and used to obtain goods or services fraudulently. Skimming can also take place at an ATM where id thieves have rigged a skimmer onto the front of the ATM and your card details will be taken together with your PIN without your knowledge. Always report any sign of an ATM that has been tampered with in any way.
  • Fraudulent Credit Reports. When taking out credit agreements either during a purchase or maybe even property rental, companies will want to obtain your credit rating to determine if you are a good risk. This information is highly prized by ID thieves and can use pretence to gain this information from you. Never offer any information to anyone without checking their credentials first. Companies you are obtaining credit from will be able to access the necessary information from a credit report company direct.

In addition to the above, use strong passwords when setting up accounts on the internet (a selection of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and characters). Use good computer security such as anti spyware and malware software.  Keep sensitive items such as passports and birth certificates in a safe place, ideally in a safe. Increasing the security level of your privacy settings on social media accounts and being wary of any information available in the public domain such as dates of birth, pet names, nicknames and middle names, you will minimise the risk of this happening to you.