Identity theft is a relatively recent phenomenon but it’s on the increase. Here are a few tips on how to prevent identity theft and what to do if it occurs.
Last winter I was the victim of identity theft. Someone used my name and address to take out contracts with several mobile phone companies.
I started to receive letters in the post from these companies. I have only ever had dealings with one mobile phone company so it was obvious that something had gone wrong.
One by one I contacted them and had the contracts cancelled. I spent a lot of time on the phone and it was a pain in the neck but at least I didn’t lose any money.
However, it did affect my credit rating for several months but I have now had that restored to its former healthy status. Below I explain how to do it if it happens to you.
How To Prevent Identity Theft
- Be aware. It may seem obvious but are you familiar with the risks of having your identity stolen? Read up on the facts using this guide on the Action Fraud website.
- Use a shredder. Don’t throw away anything that has your name and address printed on it. Use a household shredder when disposing of old utility bills etc. Be particularly careful with bank statements, credit card statements, receipt, and invoices. Once you get into the habit it becomes reassuring that nothing is going into the bin that could reveal details about your identity.
- Be vigilant online. It seems every website you visit wants you to register your details. This is only to be expected if you intend to buy a physical product that needs to be delivered. Over time your name and address will be stored in more and more databases. How secure are they? It’s only when the larger companies experience a security breach that headlines are made. Don’t provide more information than is needed. Just because the form is there it doesn’t mean you have to fill it in. Just provide the minimum await of information for each site at which you register and close accounts you no longer use. Remember to request that all your details are removed and ask for confirmation that this has been done.
- Use a password manager. It’s all too tempting to use simple and easy to guess passwords. Identity theft is never going to happen to you is it? So why bother with cryptic passwords? If you want to run the risk that’s up to you but if you’ve got any sense you’ll use cryptic passwords that are a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. I started using Roboform Password Manager years ago and it’s now an indispensable tool that I use every day.
- Monitor your credit rating. For a small monthly fee you can keep a check on your credit rating. Companies like Experian compile the details of all the mortgages, loans, credit cards, and other financial agreements that you’ve taken out. If you apply for any new agreements then the companies to which your submit your application will check your score to measure the risk of accepting you as a client. It may seem like an unnecessary expense but like all good insurance it’s a relief to know you have it when something does happen. It’s also very useful for keeping abreast of all your financial commitments. In fact, there are all kinds of benefits of maintaining an account and monitoring your credit rating.
What To Do If Identity Theft Occurs
- Don’t panic. A calm and methodical approach will sort things out but it’s going to take a little effort. It happens to all sorts of people and help is at hand. There are processes and procedures already in place to deal with it.
- Keep all the evidence. Put all the letters, statements etc together in one place were you can find them easily. You might want to use a folder as you’ll have to store the paperwork for several months.
- Inform the companies. Contact the companies in question and ask to speak to their Fraud or Security department. Explain what has happened and ask them to cease the fradulent accounts. Keep a record of the dates and times you called, who you spoke to, and any reference numbers they provide. Ask for written confirmation that the account taken out in your name has been closed.
- Wait. Some companies will close the account while you’re on the phone. For others there may be some delay. It will take several days if not weeks for confirmation to come through that all is well and that you do not owe them anything. As each confirmation arrives add it to your folder and one by one you’ll see that all the fraudulent accounts are closed.
- Report it to Action Fraud. By reporting identity theft and other types of fraud you’ll be helping in the fight against it. Your information may also help to bring offenders to justice.
- Check your credit rating. If you’ve got an account with Experian or a similar company (as I suggested above) you’ll be able to keep a check for any adverse effects on your credit rating. If all the companies have done their job properly then there should be no outstanding amounts on your account. However, I found one company had not removed the details of a debt in my name and a follow up letter to their head office was required. Eventually it was removed but I would not have been aware of it had I not kept a check on my credit rating.
As with everything in life there is a risk involved. We can mitigate those risks by taken sensible precautions. Those actions become habits once repeated a few times.
No one wants to answer the door to a bailiff demanding payment for a debt you know nothing about due to another incident of identity theft. Keep your personal information private and monitor your credit rating.
You’ll feel more in control and better prepared if anything does occur.