How at risk is your identity?
Criminals could be out to steal your identity even if you don’t have much money, according to new research by CreditExpert from Experian. The online identity fraud protection service has found that criminals are widening their horizons and no longer concentrate on wealthy targets who offer the richest pickings.
Here are some of the risk factors you could be facing – and some advice on how to avoid one of the boom crimes of the 21st century.
Risk factor: Renting
The study found that people who rent – whether they are young professionals, singles in council or housing association flats or high-flying graduates who are saving for a deposit on a home of their own – are most likely to have their personal data stolen and used to apply for credit, run up debts or clean out their accounts.
These groups are around twice as likely as the average Briton to have their identities stolen and misused, largely because rented homes frequently have communal halls where all the post is delivered, making it easy to intercept. Once a fraudster has a copy of your bank statement, for example, they could have enough information to hijack your identity.
Frauds using current address are the most common, at 36 per cent of the total reported to Experian in 2008. Fraud as a result of forwarding post comes third, at 29 per cent of all cases. You should always report missing post to the Royal Mail and to organisations such as your bank and credit card issuer.
Risk factor: Big city or commuter belt living
London is the nation’s identity fraud capital. Residents are almost four times as likely to be targeted as the average man or women – and Kensington is the riskiest place in the country, with a risk factor six times higher than average. Other top target areas range from Cheapside, Chelsea, Chiswick and Clapham to Victoria, Wandsworth, the West End and Wood Green.
The pattern is repeated in Scotland, where Edinburgh and Glasgow are identity fraud hotspots. But living in the leafy outskirts is no protection – respectable St Albans, Slough, Guildford and Windsor top the out-of-London league table, where they are joined by desirable locations including Tunbridge Wells, Oxford, Winchester and Maidenhead.
Risk factor: Moving home
No matter what your reason for moving – whether you’re pursuing career opportunities, moving in with a partner, upsizing or downsizing – a change of address makes you vulnerable to ID fraud.
Protect yourself by getting the Royal Mail to redirect your post for at least a year after moving. It’s not simply a matter of telling your bank, utility companies and credit card issuer – even a stray catalogue carrying your account number and credit limit can lead to problems, so it’s best to ensure that nothing lands up in the wrong hands.
You should also deregister from the electoral roll at your old address and register to vote at your new home as soon as possible. If you’re not on file, then a criminal can register in your name and use this as proof of residence when applying for anything from a mobile phone contract to a major loan.
Risk factor: Success
Just because fraudsters are taking advantage of the comparative vulnerability of renters, they haven’t abandoned their most lucrative targets. The CreditExpert research cites company directors and business owners, high-earners with premium city homes and successful professionals as having an above-average risk of becoming victims of identity fraud.
With high credit ratings, savings, investments and multiple credit accounts, they are especially attractive to identity thieves and should take special care to check statements carefully and shred sensitive documents before binning them – although this applies to all of us, however much or little we earn.
Risk factor: Carelessness
Anyone can fall for a confidence trickster using cold calls or phishing e-mails but new research for the Office of Fair Trading uncovered psychological traits that make some of us more likely to give away too much personal data. Living alone, being impulsive and even a history of being scammed are all key factors among the one in 15 of us who fall victim to this kind of identity fraud each year.
The simple advice is never to part with personal information, let alone financial details, to unknown voices on the phone, e-mailers or websites. The same principle applies on social networks – sharing details such as dates of birth, pets and children’s names could give criminals a clue to your PINs and passwords.
Risk factor: Not paying attention
In 2008, most people discovered for themselves that they had become a victim of identity fraud – 63% of people first found out they were victims when they checked their credit report. Your credit report is the personal history of your credit accounts, your repayment record and – crucially – recent applications for new accounts. Checking your credit report regularly is recommended by the Home Office as an effective precaution against identity fraud.
For ongoing protection from identity fraud, use the CreditExpert service from Experian and receive e-mail alerts when new credit applications are made in your name. You can sign up and try the service today with a free 30-day trial at creditexpert.co.uk
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