Using the internet can expose you to the threat of identity fraud. Scammers and cybercriminals know how to use a variety of attack vectors to steal sensitive Personally Identifiable Information (PII) from you. Once fraudsters have stolen that data, it is possible that you could suffer severe financial repercussions.
So, what can you do to minimize these risks, and to ensure that your PII is being adequately protected? In this guide, we show you how to protect yourself from identity theft.
How to prevent identity fraud
The first thing to remember is that you should always be extremely careful about who you hand your personal data to. Scammers are known to use phishing attacks and social engineering to trick their victims into directly passing over their details.
This is the most effective way to get a victim’s data because rather than hacking it from their devices, it relies on tricking the victim into willingly handing over the data directly. These phishing attacks commonly occur via emails, SMS messages, or Direct Messages via social media.
Phishing attacks come in a variety of different forms, but they will nearly always leverage the recipient’s emotions by making them act quickly and without thinking. Thus, by being prepared and knowing what to look out for, you can vastly reduce the chances of suffering an attack.
First and foremost, always be wary when opening any incoming messages or emails; no matter which platform you receive them on. Scammers are known to use cleverly scripted emails that appear to be genuine. These emails trick you into following links to cloned versions of websites that will steal your login data and other personal details if you enter them.
To prevent this from happening, always be suspicious of any links contained within emails. Rather than following these links, always use your browser to directly access the personal accounts or services from which incoming messages allege to be from.
Always be suspicious of any attachments contained with emails, as these could cause you to become infected with malware or other dangerous exploits that hackers will use to snoop on your phone or computer to steal your information. To lessen the chance of this kind of infection, be sure to use a reliable firewall and an antivirus program that actively scans for incoming threats in real-time.
In addition to following the tips above, below we have included a comprehensive list of rules to follow in order to prevent data being stolen that could be leveraged by criminals for the purposes of engaging in identity fraud.
- Don’t throw out any documents or letters that contain your personal information. Instead, dispose of those documents safely by using a shredder or redacting important info that could be used to engage in identity theft.
- Always be wary of any incoming messages or phone calls that purport to be from a bank, building society, or an official government body such as Inland Revenue. Never hand over personal information such as account numbers, security details, passwords, login details, national insurance number, bank details or debit and credit card numbers when approached.
- Be wary of incoming calls – even if the call number appears to be correct and legitimate. Scammers are known to use number spoofing techniques to make it seem like a call is legitimate. If in doubt call the service or organisation back to ensure you are really speaking to who it claims to be.
- Always check bank statements and statements for other financial services closely and regularly to check for unwanted activity.
- Dispose of bills and other important documents, and never leave them lying about where somebody could potentially access them.
- When you move house, always ask Royal Mail to redirect your post for at least a year to prevent your post from being opened by someone living at your old address.
- If you are expecting a new bank card or a statement and it doesn't arrive, always inform your bank right away.
Tips for victims of identity fraud
If you have reason to believe that you are suffering from identity fraud, you must act at once to prevent dire negative consequences. When criminals use your identity to make purchases, to open accounts, to take out insurance, or to take out contracts, those debts are being accumulated in your name and they will affect your credit rating.
Start by contacting a credit reference agency such as Equifax, Experian, Callcredit, or ClearScore. These services can check your credit file for signs of abuse or fraud. If you believe that your card has been stolen or that your bank accounts are being illegally accessed and used to make purchases, contact your bank at once to freeze your assets.
Your bank will launch an investigation and will report any suspected wrongdoing to the police. However, it is still a good idea to directly report financial and identity fraud to the police.
Always report any suspected identity fraud to the organisations that you believe have been affected, such as Inland Revenue. This goes for the suspected theft of official documents such as drivers licenses, passports, cards, birth certificates etc. These must be reported to the respective agencies and the police.
If you aren’t 100% sure on who to contact when you have suffered the loss or theft of a document or other sensitive information, you can call Action Fraud for advice by calling 0300 123 2040.
What types of identity fraud are the most common?
Identity fraud can lead to the following negative consequences at the hands of criminals:
- Bank accounts being opened in your name.
- Credit cards, loans, or state benefits being taken out in your name.
- Consumer goods being purchased in your name.
- The theft of funds from an existing bank account.
- Contracts (such as mobile phone contracts) being taken out in your name.
- Documents such as passports or drivers licenses being taken out in your name.
- Medication or medical procedures being purchased or undertaken in your name.
Report each of these cases individually to the appropriate organisation
Always remember to report these individual kinds of identity theft and fraud to the various organizations involved.
- In the UK, report identity fraud to the police and ask for a crime reference number. In addition, report the crime to CIFAS (the UK's Fraud Prevention Service)
- In the US report identity theft and identity fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and the police.
- If you live elsewhere, contact the police or local fraud prevention services in your home country. And, depending on the kind of document or information that you believe is being defrauded, contact the appropriate body in question.
If you believe your driver’s license has been stolen or cloned, contact the local vehicle authority in your country. If a passport has been stolen or cloned contact your local passport office, etc.
What to do if someone is impersonating you on social media/messenger apps
In addition to the very serious consequences mentioned above, criminals may actively seek to impersonate you online using fake social media accounts and messenger apps. This kind of account cloning and identity theft is usually undertaken in order to steal data from your friends, family, and social circles.
By pretending to be you online, scammers know they can cause your loved ones to part with vital information that can be leveraged to defraud them and engage in identity fraud in their name.
If you believe that someone is impersonating you online, you must contact that platform to let them know about any accounts that have been taken out in your name. You will usually need to provide proof of who you are to the platform in order for them to freeze or delete any wrongful accounts that exist in your name.
Platforms like Instagram and Facebook both have official forms available within their apps and websites to flag an account that is being used in your name. So be sure to use those official methods to flag any illegal accounts.
Report fake social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter)
If you do not currently have a social media account with service in question, you can use this form to report an illegal Instagram account, this form to report an illegal Facebook account, and this form to report an illegal Twitter account.
Report a fake Telegram account
If you have reason to believe you, or someone you know is impersonating you on Telegram contact the company directly via email on [email protected]. Be sure to provide as much information about the fake account as possible and why you are reporting them. While Telegram and WhatsApp do use end-to-end encryption to protect the contents of messages, don't forget that as the recipient of messages, you have access to that content. So be sure to keep copies of those messages so that you can provide them as evidence of wrongdoing that has occurred to both the platform in question and the authorities.
Report a fake WhatsApp account
If you have reason to believe a WhatsApp account or group is being used to impersonate yourself or somebody you know, follow these steps to report the account:
- Open the chat.
- Tap on the contact or group name to open their profile information.
- Scroll to the bottom and tap Report contact or Report group.
Inform the police
In addition to reporting the fake accounts to the platform in question, it is important to always remember to report any fake social media accounts being used maliciously or illegally to the police.
If an online account is being leveraged to defraud people, to engage in abuse such as racism, extremism, bullying, violence, or to incite hatred or abuse of any kind, then it is important to report that account to the platform in question and the police.
One simple question to ask yourself whenever you're disposing of something is "could someone use the information on this for identity theft?" – if the answer is yes, then you need to be careful with how you dispose of it.
If you're looking for additional ways to improve your digital privacy, and generally be more secure online, check out our in-depth guides, detailed VPN reviews, and regular privacy news updates for more.