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Identity theft in the UK: how bad is it?

Your identity is perhaps one of your most valuable assets. If someone steals your identity and then uses it to commit fraud, you can end up losing money. Identity theft can also cause you to experience difficulties in accessing loans, mortgages and credit cards. Unfortunately, fraudsters are increasingly finding new ways of acquiring the information that they need to steal your identity. As a result, cases of identity theft in the UK are rising.

So, just how bad is identity theft in the UK? What is being done to stop it?

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when another individual obtains your personal and confidential information without your knowledge. The fraudster can then use the information to commit a wide range of crimes. These include financial crimes such as credit card fraud, bank fraud, benefits fraud and tax rebate fraud. Fraudsters can also use your personal identity to commit other types of crimes such as money laundering, trafficking and smuggling of drugs, cyber crimes, and entering or leaving the country illegally.

The information needed to commit identity theft can come from various sources, with the internet being one of the main ones. Fraudsters indeed only require a few pieces of information to steal your identity. The majority of this data is currently freely available on social media sites as well as in online directories. With a name, a date of birth and an address, it is possible for a fraudster to commit several crimes in your name. 

How bad is identity theft in the UK?

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the UK, claiming hundreds of thousands of victims every year. According to a 2019 report, Fraudscape, by the leading fraud prevention service in the country, Cifas, identity theft has become a national epidemic, with close to 190,000 cases of identity fraud being reported in the UK in 2018. This represents an increase of 8% from the previous year.

The most targeted products of identity fraud are plastic cards. In 2018 alone, there was a total of 82,608 cases – an increase of 41% from 2017.

The most targeted age groups are people of age 21 and under and those of age 60 and above. The Cifas report particularly indicates that identity thieves are most inclined towards the over 60s. The incidence rate of identity theft among people in this age group rose by 34% in 2018 to 33,000. Fraudsters often target older people as they perceive them to have a higher likelihood of credit approval.

What is being done to stop identity theft?

Among those taking proactive action to prevent identity theft in the UK are public and private companies. To allow customers access their services, many now use bio-metrics instead of old forms of authentication such as PIN numbers.

The other main initiatives set up to assist in the fight against identity theft in the UK are:

  • Take Five – This national campaign against identity theft was set up by UK Finance, a national banking/financial services trade association. The campaign aims to offer straightforward and impartial advice to citizens to protect them from preventable incidences of fraud. Take Five has the backing of the government, which delivers it in partnership with various players in the UK. These players come from the financial payments industry, financial services firms, telecommunication providers and law enforcement agencies, as well as commercial and public organisations. You can access a wide range of advice, videos and education resources from the Take Five website.
  • Cifas – This is one of the bodies in the UK that helps citizens keep track of their identities and profiles and address any incidents of identity theft. For a small fee, you can apply for protective registration from Cifas. After registration, Cifas puts a notice on your credit profile warning relevant service providers that fraudsters might use your name or address to commit fraud. This will prompt the organisation’s members to carry out extra checks if anyone applies for financial services such as a loan using your information.
  • Action Fraud – This resource helps citizens report and get general advice on identity fraud. If you suspect that you are a victim of identity fraud, you can report the incident using this organisation’s secure online fraud reporting tool or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Final word

The development and continuous evolution of new data- and information-sharing mediums such as social media means that it is almost impossible to completely prevent identity theft. Hold off panicking, however. As shown here, there are several resources to help you deal with the problem of identity theft.

For more information on identity theft, check out our articles on how to tell whether you are vulnerable to identity theft and how to report identity theft.

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