Identity theft: how to keep your personal details personal

online securityA recent report has thrown light on the extent of online identity theft and it makes for illuminating reading. Research carried out by Cifas (the national fraud prevention service) has revealed that the number of cases of identity theft has doubled in the past year and the problem looks likely to get worse.

The report draws together figures from leading financial institutions revealing that last year there were 140,000 cases of identity fraud; representing a rise of 57% on the previous 12 months. Only a small percentage of cases involved fictitious identities and the vast majority involved fraudsters assuming real stolen identities.

Identity theft is the fraudulent practice of using stolen personal details to get credit or buy goods. Victims are often unaware they have been targeted until an unexpected bill arrives or they are unable to make a financial transaction because their bank has been emptied or their credit rating is in tatters.

Fraudsters need surprisingly little personal information to commit identity theft and worryingly much of it is publicly available. Armed with just your name, address, date of birth and bank details; fraudsters can help themselves to your finances.

Commenting on the findings Simon Dukes of Cifas said “Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other online platforms are much more than just social media sites – they are now a hunting ground for identity thieves. We are urging people to check their privacy settings today and think twice about what they share. To a fraudster, the information we put online is a goldmine.”

Most identity fraud is committed online (86%) and the following steps are designed to improve security:

  • Make sure your passwords aren’t easy to crack by using a combination of upper and lower case letters as well as numbers and symbols
  • Be highly suspicious of cold calls and email solicitation and don’t hand over personal details
  • When shopping online make sure the merchant is secure by checking the site is in https:// and displays the padlock symbol in your status bar
  • Make sure that all your connected devices have antivirus software and that it’s regularly updated
  • Remember that spyware can hide behind tempting online adverts and clickable headlines
  • Most laptops and mobiles are PIN or fingerprint protected; so take advantage of built-in security
  • Only use public WiFi for browsing and never for buying or banking
  • Be careful of what you share on social media and check your security settings

 


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