Young, single – and at risk of identity fraud
Once, they focused on wealthy targets who offered the richest pickings but now identity fraudsters have broadened their scope to cover more vulnerable lower income victims living in rented accommodation, according to new research from CreditExpert, the identity fraud protection service from Experian.
Identity fraud has been a boom crime in the 21st century, taking place when criminals get hold of sufficient personal details to impersonate their victims, apply for credit accounts in their names, run up debts or take over existing accounts.
“Everyone should be aware that they are vulnerable to identity fraud,” says CreditExpert director Darryl Bowman. “Criminals are still interested in stealing the identities of the richest people but now they are increasingly focusing on less well-off people whose lifestyles make their personal information more vulnerable.
“Whoever they target will suffer many months of disruption and stress while they struggle to set the record straight. It can take a long time to get your money back and restore your credit rating – and in the meantime you can come under extreme financial pressure.”
If you’re a young professional living in a major city such as London or Glasgow and rent your home, then you’re now part of the group most likely to become a victim of identity fraud and are more than twice as likely as average to be targeted.
Young, single people working in service industries and living in flats that are usually rented from housing associations or councils and graduate high-flyers renting in good areas of cities are also prime candidates for identity fraud, ahead of the wealthy, high-earners and professionals who have previously been top of the criminals’ hit-lists.
“The reason is simple – people in rented accommodation are more likely to have shared hallways, which makes it easier for crooks to intercept mail,” explains Mr Bowman. “They also move home more often than wealthier and more settled groups – if they don’t redirect their post for long enough, it can be picked up and used by the wrong people. If you’re worried, check your Experian credit report and see if anyone has applied for credit in your name.”
Hitting the fraud hot spots
The analysis of frauds reported to Experian during 2008 also identifies the areas that contain the highest proportion of at-risk residents – and London is the capital of identity fraud Britain.
Londoners are almost four times as likely to have their identities stolen and misused as the average person across Britain. If you live in Kensington, the nation’s hottest spot for identity fraud, you are more than six times as likely to suffer – a distinction shared by eight other areas of the city; Victoria, Wandsworth, Hammersmith, Queensway, Chelsea, Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, Stratford and Putney.
In Scotland, this metropolitan bias is repeated, with Edinburgh and Glasgow top of the identity fraud league.
Elsewhere, Birmingham is the only major city to figure in the top 25 targets, with criminals generally focusing on the potential of affluent commuter belt towns such as St Albans, Guildford, Windsor and Maidenhead.
How they do it – and how to stop them
The most common way to steal an identity is to hijack a victim’s current address, which accounted for 36 per cent of all cases in 2008. Close behind came frauds using the victim’s previous address, at 30 per cent, while in 29 per cent of cases crooks forwarded post.
“This underlines the watching out for regular items of post, from bank and credit card statements to catalogues, and alerting the senders and the Post Office if items do not turn up,” says Mr Bowman. “You should always get your mail forwarded by the Post Office for at least a year when you move home – it may seem like an unnecessary expense but it could save you a huge amount of trouble.”
In fact, we are becoming more identity fraud-aware – the study found that almost two-thirds of victims discovered the crime themselves when they checked their credit report and found fraudulent activity, such as accounts in their names that they had not opened.
“The Home Office recommends regular checks on your credit report as an effective precaution against identity fraud and the message seems to be getting through, “ Mr Bowman adds. “Because it lists all your credit accounts, from mobile phone contracts to mortgages, you can easily spot unfamiliar accounts and new applications for credit you didn’t make. That means you can stop trouble before it has a chance to escalate.
“For ongoing protection from identity fraud, try the CreditExpert monitoring service from Experian. It gives you unlimited access to your credit report and includes regular e-mail alerts whenever there are significant changes to your credit report – such as a new application for credit. Try the service free for 30 days at creditexpert.co.uk”
Other precautions include:
• Registering to vote at your current address: the electoral role is used by lenders to check your residential status – if you’re registered, then a criminal can’t register in your name elsewhere
• Destroying documents a crook could use: shred, burn or otherwise destroy all financial documents and anything carrying your full name and address, date of birth or any account number
• Keeping your information up to date: remember to tell your bank, card issuer, utility providers and anyone else you can think of when you move home. That way, sensitive information should not fall into criminal hands
• Install a personal mail box: if you do have a shared delivery point for post, try to get individual mail boxes installed, so your personal documents stay personal
• Don’t give your identity away: be wary of cold callers, e-mails asking for personal data and even what you give away on social networking sites. Even the names of your pets or your children’s birthdays could be a clue to your passwords or PINs for a watchful identity thief
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