Protecting your identity

Common ways fraudsters can steal your personal information

As individuals, throughout our lifetime we exchange personal information with a vast number of institutions including banks, credit card suppliers, utility companies, supermarkets, government organisations and retailers. This may be to receive important services, but also to allow us to do the fun things like shopping, eating out or going on holiday.

Fraudulent or stolen identities being used to make false applications for credit cards or loans, to obtain goods and services, or even to access money or other assets is naturally something that concerns us all. Worryingly, it is not untypical for a victim to first become aware of this when they receive a letter of demand for payment.

Of course, there are a number of basic things we can all do as individuals to protect ourselves against identity crime and reduce the risk of our personal information falling into the wrong hands. If you discover your identity has been stolen, act immediately. Following these steps will help to minimise the impact and prevent additional issues from arising.

1. Check your credit reports
At a small cost, you can check your credit file with a credit reference agency such as Call Credit, Equifax or Experian to help identify any activity that you are not aware of.

2. Monitor your mail
Make sure you receive all post that you are expecting. If you think post is missing, contact the Royal Mail. Also, arrange for the Royal Mail to re-direct post to your new address if you have moved house, and inform companies that you deal with regularly that you have moved.

3. Review bills and bank statements
Check bank, credit card and other financial statements frequently, and look out for transactions that you do not recognise. Check for fraudulent charges or suspicious activity. Report issues immediately. Consider receiving statements and bills electronically, setting up direct deposits, and using online bill pay.

4. Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection providers monitor your credit reports, as well as online debit and credit card number(s). If suspicious activity is detected, you will be notified and will receive identity recovery assistance.

5. Shred documents
Carefully dispose of documentation that contains personal details rather than just throwing them away. Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy envelopes and documents.

6. Secure your computer(s) and mobile devices
Whether a desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet or smartphone, your computer contains critical personal information.

To help protect your electronic devices, you should also:
Password-protect your device
Install and update operating system, antivirus and anti-spyware software. For smartphones, also install a ‘wiping’ program to erase all data remotely if it is lost or stolen
Use a personal firewall
When using a wireless network, activate WPA encryption and any other security features available. Change your router’s default password and SSID
Beware of ‘smishing’ – text messages containing links capable of downloading malware to your smartphone
Do not leave your device unattended or your screen visible to others
Close your browser when you’re finished with a secure session
Log off when you leave or step away

Use caution online
Only access personal and financial information from a computer you ‘trust’
Only do business with financial institutions and online merchants you know and trust. Watch out for copycat sites, and confirm the email address is correct
When accessing financial information or ordering online, be sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with ‘https://’ and the ‘closed padlock’ symbol
Never reply to an email or pop-up message that requests you provide or update your personal information

On social media sites, it’s always a good idea to:
Review the privacy policy
Choose a challenging password
Don’t reveal your physical address, date of birth, school names or phone numbers
Use privacy settings