Written by Alice Payne
Posted on 29/01/2015

How to protect yourself from identity theft

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Identity theft is not a new concept. However, modern technology, the internet and fraud-enabling apps have made it easier to have your identity stolen.

Financial identity theft is one of the most common afflictions. Fraudsters steal your identity to access your financial details, credit, goods or other services. Here are some simple tips to stay clear of identity thieves.

Shred personal information, especially financial details

Although the information on bank statements may not typically be sufficient to access someone’s account, when combined with other personal information, it becomes easier. So make sure you shred bank statements, credit card offers, receipts, signatures and other sensitive information before throwing it out. A bin-raiding test in London showed that almost half of the 120 homes tested had thrown away sufficient information for their identities to be stolen.

Beware of unsolicited phone calls

Identity thieves may target you through phone calls, texts, emails or internet pop-ups and pose as your bank, or even claim that you’ve won a prize. In a recent development, scammers can now call customers with technology that allows them to mimic any number, such as the phone number of the customer’s bank. This means when they contact potential victims, the number displayed on the victim’s phone is that of their own bank . Often, in a reverse-tactic, these fraudsters will say they are concerned about fraudulent activity on the individual’s account, in order to gain easier access to personal details. What is most alarming is that, if the victim voices their concerns, they are often told to telephone the bank back to confirm the call is genuine. But the fraudster is able to keep the line open even after the victim has hung up, so when they call back, they are connected to the same fraudsters. To prevent this, you should hang up, then call a different number that you trust in order to clear the line, and then you should telephone your bank using the number on the back of your bank card . And remember – never give out your personal information over the phone unless you initiated the telephone call and feel confident in who you are speaking to.

Diversify your passwords

That means not creating a universal password in homage to a family member or pet. Mix up letters and numbers, and have different passwords for different services. As an extension of this, don’t write these passwords on a post-note and stick it to your computer. If your house is burgled, this post-it may be more valuable than your HD TV.

Set up alternative contact details for your email account

Some email service providers prompt you to give them your mobile phone number or an alternative email address. It’s worth doing this because it means that if your email account is hacked, the service provider can verify your identity more swiftly through their contact records and wrestle your account back from the slippery hands of hackers. This could save valuable time and prevent your contacts from being conned into sending emergency money as a result of fraudulent email pleas from your account.

Sanitise your IT equipment before disposing of it

Whether you’re selling your computer, throwing out a USB stick or swapping your old mobile phone for an upgrade, make sure you clean your equipment. This means deleting all personal data and files. Bear in mind that cleaning your computer doesn’t always mean that information is permanently deleted. With some PCs and laptops, it’s possible to recover deleted information from traditional magnetic hard drives, even when the operating system has been reinstalled . If necessary, you may need to download a tool to sanitise your computer or, even easier, pay a professional.

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