Seven top tips to avoid identity theft

24 June 2009

So ID theft in the UK is increasing by nearly 500% a year and unfortunately we're all so  well-versed in it that we probably know many of the ways to remain vigilant in a country full of thieving gits. But here's a refresher list of points to follow - it can't hurt to brush up!

1. Thieves don’t need your card numbers to steal your identity.
It’s common for people to take all manner of measures to conceal their card number and protect their cards – and this is good. But thieves can use less sensitive pieces of information – a birth-date or NI number – to build up an identity solid enough to steal and run amok. It’s a good idea to keep any such information, including birth certificates, passports, bank statements even phone bills, either securely or (if possible) shredded.

2. Information you reveal online is sometimes enough to commit ID theft.
If you want a good excuse not to exhibit your birth-year on Facebook, this is it. Revealing an exact DOB, phone number or home address on any website is usable by thieves. Refrain from doing so, even on more ‘official’ websites such as job-search engines.

3. Don’t use dodgy cashpoints!
We all know what cash-points look and feel like. We’ve used hundreds of them and they’re all about the same. If any seem a little strange – extra plastic around the card slot for instance – this is probably a card skimmer designed to harvest your card details. If you notice after using your card in the machine, report the fact to your bank so they can monitor the account for fraudulent activity.

4. Be wary with shopkeepers...
If the cashier (or indeed anybody) has your card and is turned away for any period of time, make sure they’re not solemnly scanning your card into a handheld skimming device of some sort, copying its details. Such a device is not even necessary – most relevant information can be captured simply by taking a photo of the front and back of the card. Also make sure what’s handed back is actually your card and not simply something that looks like it.

5. Pay attention to your snail mail.
If you start missing bank statements or other regular financial documents, this could be a sign that someone has intercepted and changed your address for that account.

6. Review your statements!
Carefully – don’t skimp. If there are strange transactions – even small ones – with unfamiliar organisations this could be a sign for the worse. Thieves sometimes ‘trial’ blocks of account details they’ve been given by withdrawing (or even crediting) tiny pence amounts from random accounts to make sure the accounts are indeed active. Most fraud detection algorithms aren’t triggered by such small amounts – so you’ll need to detect them yourself, before they rinse the accounts properly.

7. Paperless is the way forward.
We touched on this in a post not long ago about carrying too much stuff in your bags – heed this advice! Many people find that they’re carrying around personal documents they don’t need to including passports, bank statements, bills and the like. Take these out of your bag before leaving he house! Also reducing the amount of paper documentation you receive to your household overall can help. If possible put a cease to any snail mail; for instance your bank may let you review statements online as opposed to on paper. As for any paper information that you do receive – if it’s to be thrown away, do so using a shredder.

And there you have it - seven ways in which you can secure yourself against the menace of ID theft. But of course there are many other ways to counteract this growing crime - do our dear readers have any other sound advice to throw out there? Or perhaps some cautionary tales of ID hardship?

TOPICS:   Scams


  • Pure-Klenz
    Great tips - I heard most cards get skimmed at Petrol stations so watch out!
  • > H.
    "Also make sure what’s handed back is actually your card and not simply something that looks like it." I got handed an Ace of Spades, I didn't notice until I went to buy some petrol, the bloke said, "Are you fucking joking mate?"
  • Jake
    I can understand why you should not put down your exact date of birth on online sites, but surely employers will think you've got something to hide if you put your date of birth down as 25 years rather than day / month / year. What if you are filling in an online job application form where you can only enter your age in day / month / year format?
  • Gareth G.
    keep an eye on your statements too, and let your bank know of any discrepancies first ... protecting yourself from ID fraud isnt as hard as it seems, just be vigilant when giving out information
  • Tsoek C.
    Identity Fraud and Identity Theft Victims Identity theft is definitely not a victimless crime. In 2007, CIFAS identified and protected 65,000 victims of identity theft. As the scale and type of identity fraud varies, so does the impact on those whose identity has been stolen. In one-off cases, perhaps involving one fraudulent application or transaction, the damage to the victim may be minimal. At the other extreme, persistent and skilled fraudsters who comprehensively steal an identity can cause a great deal of distress to victims. It can take between 3 and 48 hours of work for a typical victim to sort out their life and clear their name. In cases where a 'total hijack' has occurred, perhaps involving 20-30 different organisations, it may take the victim over 200 hours and cost up to £8,000 before things are back to normal. They may suffer considerable (albeit temporary) damage to their credit status, which may then affect their ability to obtain finance or insurance - even a mortgage may be temporarily compromised. However, in the eyes of the law, the financial institutions/lending organisations are considered the only victims, because they are the ones who have been defrauded. As a result, the damage inflicted on the reputation of the victims and the time they spend mending the trail of destruction cannot easily be redressed. Any such compensation needs to be fought for through the civil courts. This is likely to continue to be the case until legislation is introduced specifically to outlaw identity theft, as in the USA.
  • Christoher
    To Jake : Under age discrimination laws, employers should not be asking you for your age, and if they do, they should clearly make sure that it is entirely at your discretion, like the questions about any potential disabilities, race and even sexuality. Any applications now therefore that require you do input your date of birth are often breaking the new discrimination laws.

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