Id Theft

How To Prevent Identity Theft And What To Do If It Occurs

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How To Prevent Identity Theft And What To Do If It Occurs

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.

A few years ago 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 – 16 Ways

  1. Be aware of the risks.  It may seem obvious but are you familiar with the risks of having your identity stolen?  Become and stay informed. Read up on the facts using this guide on the Action Fraud website.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Regularly Check Financial Statements: Scrutinise your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorised transactions. Promptly report any discrepancies to your bank or card issuer.
  7. Use Strong, Unique Passwords: Ensure each of your online accounts has a strong, unique password. Consider using a password manager to keep track of them securely.
  8. Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Whenever available, activate two-factor authentication for an added layer of security beyond just a password.
  9. Be Wary of Unsolicited Communications: Do not share personal information in response to unsolicited requests via email, phone, or text messages. Verify the identity of the requester through official contact details.
  10. Secure Your Personal Documents: Store sensitive documents (such as your passport and bank statements) in a secure place. Shred any documents you no longer need.
  11. Monitor Your Credit Report: Regularly review your credit report for any unusual activity or unauthorised new accounts. In the UK, you can check your report through major credit reference agencies like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
  12. Be Cautious with Public Wi-Fi: Avoid conducting financial transactions or logging into sensitive accounts on public Wi-Fi networks. Use a virtual private network (VPN) for enhanced security.
  13. Update Your Devices: Keep your computer, smartphone, and other devices updated with the latest security patches and antivirus software to protect against malware and hacking attempts.
  14. Beware of Phishing Scams: Learn to recognise phishing emails or messages that try to trick you into providing personal information by impersonating legitimate organisations.
  15. Limit Sharing on Social Media: Be mindful of the personal information you share on social media platforms. Adjust privacy settings to control who can see your posts.
  16. Report Lost or Stolen Cards Immediately: If your debit or credit card is lost or stolen, report it to your bank immediately to prevent fraudulent use.
Always Use A Vpn When On Public Networks - How To Prevent Identity Theft
Always Use A Vpn When On Public Networks

What To Do If Identity Theft Occurs

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Be Patient.  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.
  5. Report it to Action Fraud (UK).  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.
  6. 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.
  7. Inform Financial Institutions: Contact your bank and any other financial institutions where you hold accounts. Inform them of the situation and follow their advice, which may include closing current accounts and opening new ones.
  8. Change Online Passwords: Immediately change the passwords for all important online accounts, including email, banking, and social media. Use strong, unique passwords for each account.
  9. Contact Local Police: If your identity theft involves crimes committed in your name, or if you have information about the perpetrator, report it to your local police station.
  10. Check for Unusual Activity: Regularly monitor your bank and credit card statements for transactions you do not recognise. Vigilance helps in early detection of fraudulent use.
  11. Secure Your Devices: Ensure your computer and mobile devices are secure. Update your operating system, use reputable antivirus software, and consider a firewall.
  12. Beware of Follow-up Scams: Be cautious of phone calls or emails from individuals claiming to offer assistance with your identity theft case. Verify the identity of anyone who contacts you.
  13. Update Your Mailing Address: If your theft involved a change of address scam, update your details with the Royal Mail and any other relevant services to secure your mail.
  14. Keep Records: Document all actions taken, including dates and times of calls, and keep copies of all correspondence. This documentation can be crucial for resolving disputes and proving the fraud.

Conclusion: How To Prevent Identity Theft

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.

More Information – UK

More Information – USA

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