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How to protect yourself

How to protect yourself

Criminals often steal your identity by taking personal information from your rubbish, and even making contact with you by imitating legitimate organisations. This may be by telephone, email or even through spyware your computer picks up over the internet.

If you become a victim of identity theft, it could become difficult for you to get financial services in the future.

How your identity can be stolen

Although your bank details are one of the most common things criminals look for, your identity can also be stolen through your passport, your driving licence and junk mail that you receive. You may think that you are keeping your details safe, but identity thieves have also been known to go through dustbins to look for receipts that you've thrown away. You may not find out that your identity has been stolen until you try to apply for a credit card and you're told that you already owe money to a number of companies. You could also find out if you apply for benefits and are told that you seem to be already claiming them.

Keeping your identity safe

Your identity and personal details are as valuable to criminals as your mobile phone and your wallet, so you should take the same amount of care to protect them. As well as using your common sense to keep your cards and passwords safe, there are more specific ways you can protect your details:

  • Rip up, shred or burn your receipts safely before you throw them away to make sure your card number cannot be seen.
  • If you're about to go to university, don't change your address with your bank until you're happy that your personal mail will be safe.
  • If you've just moved, set up a mail re-direct with the Post Office for at least a year, this will make sure that all your mail will be sent to your new address automatically - you should also change your address with your bank and other companies as soon as possible.

Phishing

Phishing works by sending fake emails that seem to come from well-known and well-respected companies. Phishing emails usually look like they've been sent by online banks or internet stores. They will claim that due to security checks or IT failure they have lost your information or that it is no longer secure. They usually provide a link for you to click on and re-enter your bank details or password. They then take these details to log onto the real website or online bank.

Although it sounds like an easy thing to spot, the email messages are now becoming more authentic looking, and are using images copied from the real company's site or are imitating the appearance of email newsletters.

Spotting a fake email

Although phishing emails are becoming more convincing, there are still a number of things that should make you think twice about replying:

  • Messages with spelling mistakes are unlikely to be sent out by a legitimate company as it looks unprofessional
  • If the email message begins with 'Dear shopper' or 'Dear customer' instead of addressing you personally
  • If the email says that your account will be disabled unless you send your information

Remember that companies will never ask you for your account details or any password that you use to log in to a website.

If you do receive a suspicious email that you think may be part of an online scam, contact the company that supposedly sent the email and let them know. You can email them through their official website. You could even give them a phone call if you know the customer service number.

Tips to protect your identity

The tips below will help you protect your identity and prevent criminals from committing fraud using your name:

  • Regularly watch your credit reports ideally from all three credit reference agencies, i.e. Experian, Equifax and CallCredit.
  • Destroy or shred statements, bills and direct mail, don't simply throw them away.
  • Install reputable anti-spy software on your computer and keep it updated.
  • Access the internet from behind a firewall. (This is a program or device that helps screen out hackers and viruses from attacking your computer.)
  • Secure your wireless network.
  • Don't download files unless you know where they come from, their content and that they are secure.
  • When asked to reveal any personal identifying information, such as bank details, make sure you know how it will be used, if it will be shared and who you are giving the information to.
  • Don't carry all your identification information and cards with you.
  • Always thoroughly check bank statements and credit card statements.