Someone could be out there using your identity, committing crimes defrauding your friends and family, stealing your money or even taking out loans in your name. How would you find out? In the modern world, it’s critical to know what identity theft is, how to check if you’re a victim of identity theft, and what to do if you’re affected by identity theft.
What is identity theft?
It’s identity theft when someone uses your personal details without your knowledge, usually for their personal gain. They can steal your money, apply for loans, access your accounts and use them for money laundering, trick your friends and family into giving them money, or commit other crimes, all in your name.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, you may have trouble getting a mortgage, a loan or a credit card. Your mail can be redirected. You can be locked out of your accounts or accused of crimes. The thief can claim social security benefits, or even get a passport or driving license in your name.
How to check if you’re a victim of identity theft
If you’re a victim of identity theft and you’re not in the habit of checking regularly, you probably won’t realise what’s happened until it has a direct effect on you. If you apply for social services, only to be told you’re already claiming them, or your bank account is suddenly overdrawn and you don’t know how or why, you might be a victim of identity theft.
But don’t wait until it happens. Check regularly to stay ahead of the criminals.
Check your documents
- Check your bank and credit card statements every month for unexpected transactions. If you find any transactions you don’t recognise, contact your bank or building society immediately;
- If you lose personal identity documents, immediately contact the organisation that issued them and ask how to cancel and replace the missing documents. And if they were stolen, contact the police;
- When you receive unexpected mail addressed to you, check whether it includes bills or receipts for goods or services you didn’t order, or claims for debts you didn’t incur. These are clear signs of identity theft;
- If you’re expecting sensitive mail and it doesn’t arrive, track it down or contact the sender. It may have been stolen or redirected without permission; and
- Sign up to monitor your credit score with the credit reference agencies (Equifax, Experion and TransUnion). You can do this for free, and their websites explain how. Check regularly for any unusual activity, and follow-up anything you don’t recognise.
Register for alerts
- If you own your home, register with the Land Registry and sign up to be alerted of any changes. Restrict access so no-one can change it without your authorisation; and
- American Express SafeKey, MasterCard SecureCode, and Verified by Visa can help protect you from credit card fraud.
What to do if you’re a victim of identity theft
A lot of identity theft involves banking fraud, so check your bank or building society’s website for the correct number to call, and contact them immediately. They’ll protect your account, cancel and replace any lost or stolen documents, and advise you on what to do next. They may be able to refund any money that was stolen.
Even if your utility providers (electricity, gas, phone, internet) haven’t been affected yet, contact them and ask them to monitor your accounts for fraud.
If someone stole your documents or money, report it to the police through Action Fraud and ask for a crime reference number.
The credit reference agencies have specialist support available for victims of identity theft. They can provide advice for how to react and protect yourself, and help you to sort out your accounts.
Prevention is better than cure. Pay attention, protect your identity and check regularly for any sign that you might be an easy target. It’s far easier than trying to clean up once you’re already a victim of identity theft.
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