Identity theft is when your personal details are stolen and to be used in illicit dealings such as accessing your funds, applying for credit in your name and ordering goods online using your card details.

Going through your rubbish, known as “dumpster diving” is old hat because these days criminals don’t have to get their hands dirty to steal your personal data. With a few confidence-trickster techniques they use the internet to commit card-not-present fraud. Worse still, they can empty your bank account in seconds.

Identity theft explained

This is the use of someone else’s identity to procure services or goods by deception. You might only realise that your identity has been stolen for the first time when you start receiving letters from debt collectors for debts you didn’t incur. Hopefully, you receive a bill or invoice first for something you haven’t ordered, so that it doesn’t reach the bailiff stage.

What cybercriminals can do

Once they have access to your personal details such as full name, address, NI number and, in some cases, your passwords they can:

  • open a bank account in your name
  • apply for credit card
  • take out pay-day loans
  • put in for state benefits loans
  • order goods online using your name and money
  • take over your existing accounts
  • take out a mobile phone contract
  • procure hard copy documents such as a passport and driving licence

How to avoid online identity theft

There are some easy steps to take to protect yourself against identity fraud:

  • Never give your full password, login details or bank account numbers if you receive an unsolicited phone call or email that claims to be your bank. Banks never ask for PIN numbers or a whole security number or password via an email or call.
  • Your online passwords should be strong and try not to use the same one for every online facility you use.
  • Invest in a password manager. For a relatively small annual fee you can get security alerts to all your devices, secure your passwords, which only you can access and have passwords generated for you.
  • Protect the devices you use for the internet with current security software and ensure that you install all the updates and security fixes on your devices such as your computer, tablet or telephone.
  • Don’t throw away anything that has your name and address on it and don’t leave your paper bank statements lying around. With this information, the fraudster can go online and apply for loans in your name.
  • Buy a shredder. Once you have finished with the relevant paperwork, shred it before disposing of it.
  • Tell your bank you want to go paperless and have your banks statements sent online. Remember to create a strong password that only you know to access the statements.
  • If you still want to receive your bank and credit card statements in paper form and they don’t arrive, tell your bank or credit card company immediately.
  • On social media sites don’t accept invitations from strangers and check that your profiles are private so that you are only sharing your information with people you know.
  • Don’t upload photos of your car showing your registration number. Cyber crooks can use this to get your full name and address from DVLA records.