What is identity crime?
Identity crime is a generic term for identity theft, creating a false identity or committing identity fraud. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it to impersonate you, especially in financial transactions. The effects of an identity theft can have a devastating effect on your life in some circumstances, for example:
- Credit: you may be refused credit cards or loans if someone is running up bad credit in your name
- Employment: potential employers sometimes run a credit check as part of their new employee referencing policy
- Renting: it may be hard to secure a tenancy in rented accommodation if you have a low credit score
- Mortgages: mortgage lenders may not offer you a mortgage if you have a poor credit rating
Fortunately, you now have a number of options to solve and even prevent your problems.
How does a criminal get my personal information?
Criminals commit identity theft by stealing your personal information and then pretending to be you.
There are various ways in which criminals can get access to your banking and personal information, for example:
- by taking documents from your rubbish;
- by making contact with you pretending to be from a legitimate organisation and then requesting you to provide details of your accounts and passwords (most often by phone or by using 'Phishing' emails that mimic legitimate companies);
- by using information you supply when you make online purchases from less reputable companies;
- by hacking into your computer;
- by making use of 'Trojan horse' applications to access your computer system and transmit passwords, usernames and credit card information back to the fraudsters.
What does a criminal do with this information?
A criminal can use your personal and financial information to, for example:
- Apply for a credit card in your name
- Open a bank or building society account in your name
- Run up debts (e.g. use your credit/debit card details to make a purchase) or get a loan in your name
- Apply for benefits in your name (e.g. housing benefit, new tax credits, income support, job seeker's allowance, child benefit)
- Apply for a driving licence in your name
- Register a vehicle in your name
- Apply for a passport or other travel documents in your name
- Apply for a mobile phone contract in your name.
Signs you may become a victim
You may become a victim of identity theft if:
- You have lost or had stolen important documents such as your passport or driving licence
- Post expected from your bank has not arrived or you are receiving no post at all.
Signs you may already be a victim
You may already be a victim of identity theft if:
- You identify entries on your personal credit file from organisations you do not normally deal with.
- Items have appeared on your bank or credit card statements that you do not recognise.
- You applied for a state benefit but are told that you are already claiming.
- You receive bills, invoices or receipts addressed to you for goods or services you haven't asked for.
- You have been refused a financial service, such as a credit card or a loan, despite having a good credit history.
- A mobile-phone contract has been set up in your name without your knowledge.
- You have received letters from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that aren't yours.
- Financial institutions that you do not normally deal with contact you to chase an outstanding debt.
Am I responsible for fraudulent credit card or bank transactions?
If you have been a victim of identity fraud and your card is still in your possession, you should not have to pay for anything bought on it without your permission (subject to the terms and conditions of your account). If your card has been lost or stolen, you will usually not have to pay, unless it can be shown that you have acted fraudulently or without reasonable care, for example by keeping your PIN written down with your card. The same applies to any money lost through fraudulent bank transactions.