Identity theft occurs when your personal details, such as your name, date of birth, current or previous addresses, are stolen. Identity fraud is when those details are used to commit fraud.
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft or fraud. Criminals do not discriminate. They target people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels. The effect on victims, their families and finances can be devastating. It could impact their ability to obtain loans, credit cards or even a mobile phone contract until the matter is resolved.
Account Takeover Fraud
Account-takeover fraud is when someone gains access to your account(s) without your knowledge or permission. They then pretend to be you and use the account to make fraudulent purchases, transfers and applications, or lock you out of your account.
Because criminals need access to your usernames and passwords to take over your account, keep this information safe. Use strong passwords unique to each account. Use a password creator or manager if you find it difficult to devise and remember unique passwords. You may also find that your bank and other service providers text you a code to access your account online or make transfers. Or ask for a second piece of information, known as two-factor authentication. This is for extra security and to check that it’s really you accessing the account.
Child Identity Theft
Children are also good targets for identity thieves, because they are a blank slate with no credit history, especially if they are minors. Criminals use the names, addresses, dates of birth and government ID numbers of children to open fraudulent accounts or otherwise run up debt.
If your child has a credit report, freezing it can prevent further fraud while protecting them from future attacks. Often the perpetrator of child identity theft is an ill-intentioned family member or someone familiar with the victim, who can gain access to their personal information. Be wary when giving out a child’s personal details. Educate your children accordingly. And take steps to secure sensitive documents in your home.
Debit or Credit Card Fraud
Debit or credit card fraud occurs when someone uses your card without your permission. Even if a criminal doesn’t have your physical cards, they could still use your card details. For example, for online shopping or by creating dummy cards with your card data.
To minimize the impact of this fraud, check your card and bank statements regularly. Contact your card issuer or bank immediately if you notice anything suspicious. Most card providers will not make you responsible for payments you didn’t authorize. Always keep and destroy receipts and statements securely.
Government ID Number Fraud
Most government departments issue numbers on passports, driving licences, tax correspondence, social benefit books or cards. This makes it easier for people to identify themselves when claiming services to which they are entitled. Clearly, these government-issued credentials are useful to criminals to impersonate you and make applications or claims to which they are not entitled.
Check your credit report at least annually. Contact the credit reference agency if you notice anything suspicious, so they can remove it from your report. Report all lost or stolen documents – passports, bank cards – to the relevant organization immediately.
Mail Identity Theft
Mail identity theft is when someone intercepts and steals items of mail addressed to you. Maybe it’s a new credit or debit card, a check or something else of value.
Be careful that any mail you throw away doesn’t contain personal or sensitive details. Shred or destroy it securely to be safe. Also be suspicious if you stop receiving mail like bank statements or regular utility bills. Someone may have redirected your mail to another address.
Mortgage fraud is typically when someone steals your identity to fraudulently apply for a home loan or second mortgage in your name, before disappearing with the money.
Monitoring your credit report at least annually should alert you to any fraudulent applications. Alert your mortgage lender and the credit reference agency immediately, if you notice anything suspicious.
Online Shopping Fraud
If goods you haven’t ordered suddenly start arriving at your home. Or you see items you don’t recognize on your bank or card statement, you may be a victim of online shopping fraud.
Contact your bank or card issuer in the first instance to clarify the unauthorized charges. Check that your online accounts haven’t been compromised. Be wary of using public Wi-Fi to shop or bank online or connect using a VPN. The network may not be secure, and hackers can steal data of anyone who connects.
Check that any websites you shop on are secure. Does the URL start with ‘https’? Or is there a padlock or secure icon in the address bar, for example? Think twice about shopping at websites that contain misspellings, poor quality images or deals that seem too good to be true.
Social engineering is the art of exploiting human psychology, rather than technical hacking techniques, to gain access to accounts, information or systems. Criminals are master manipulators. They can be as convincing as they’ve got the knowledge, skills and patience to be, if it means they’re successful in getting what they want.
Beware of unsolicited emails, texts or calls requesting personal details. The cover stories may vary. Criminals may impersonate banks, the police, tax office or government agencies. Either they want you to open attachments that contain bad software – malware – or to click on links to websites that are often clones of legitimate ones. The malware and fake websites are set up to harvest personal data, such as usernames, password, login IDs, or tax reference numbers, which are used for identity fraud.
Synthetic Identity Fraud
Synthetic ID fraud is a sophisticated, newer type of fraud that blends real and fictitious information to create a synthetic identity. Criminals may take a real government ID number and address and mix it with a fake name and date of birth.
The aim is to create plausible identities which criminals exploit to apply for loans, credit cards, mobile phone contracts and so on. Even if their applications are denied, the criminals may add the synthetic identity as an authorized user on other cards or accounts to start building a credit file.
If you start to receive mail addressed to people who don’t live at your home, or receive calls or mail about secondary users on your existing accounts, these could be signs of synthetic identity fraud. Contact your bank, card issuer or relevant organization.
Tax Identity Fraud
Tax identity fraud occurs when someone files a tax return in your name to collect a refund or rebate to which they’re not entitled.
If you can, file your tax returns early and review your credit reports regularly.
Insurance Identity Fraud
Insurance identity fraud occurs when someone uses your identity to obtain medical care, prescriptions, or receive payment for healthcare services under your name. Insurance identity theft can impact your health records, insurance costs and credit report over time.
To avoid this, do not share your insurance information with anyone and pay attention to your insurance costs and credit.