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Identity Theft: What is It and What Can You Do to Stop It?

02 February, 2021

When we think of theft, we tend to think of our belongings like wallets, purses, smartphones, tablets and laptops. But there’s nothing more precious that can be stolen than your identity.

It can’t be snatched out of a bag or swiped from a table whilst we aren’t looking, but careless behaviour can result in your identity falling into the hands of a cybercriminal. 

Simple mistakes, such as throwing away a bank statement without shredding it, leaving your laptop unattended in a public place, or sending an email to the wrong address, can expose your personal information.

While those actions might seem innocuous, leaving personal information lying around or accessible to others can hold financial or reputational repercussions. Personal data holds substantial value, making it an important target for cybercriminals. 

Once your personal information has been exposed, an identity thief is then able to impersonate you and act on your behalf. For example, signing you up for bank loans, applying for tax refunds, or even emptying your bank account!

What is the Scale of Identity Theft?

Identity theft might seem like an abstract threat, but it’s far from rare. In fact, 2019 saw the highest ever reported cases of identity theft, according to the Cifas National Fraud Database with over 223,000 cases reported, up a remarkable 18% on the previous year. 

Identity theft poses a huge threat for individuals and organisations. Don't believe us? Check out these statistics: 

Is Identity Theft a Workplace Threat?

Identity theft is often framed as an issue for the individual. After all, it’s your identity being stolen. However, identity theft is being increasingly utilised to gain access to organisations’ vital data. 

By focusing on human vulnerability, attackers can compromise a single email account and use the stolen data to form more advanced attacks against the business.  

This can impact the financial position of a business, potentially resulting in large sums of money lost without any possibility of recovery. 

A business’ reputation, built upon years of excellent service and trust, can likewise experience substantial damage. This can create a secondary financial loss, where customers leave due to fear and loss of confidence in a business. 

Ultimately, the consequences of an attack can become too difficult to deal with, amidst recovery costs exceeding business capabilities, giving a business no option but to shut shop and close trading doors completely.

How to Protect Yourself (and Organisation) from Identity Theft

Identity theft can have serious implications on both your personal and professional life. However, becoming a victim can be relatively easy to avoid. 

Take a look at our prevention tips to stop your personal information and data from being stolen:

  • Invest in a paper cross-shredder to destroy all personal and confidential information before discarding.
  • Check your credit card and bank statements regularly and look out for any unfamiliar activity.
  • Be wary of telephone calls, emails or letters that ask you to give or update security or personal information. Check the identity of removal staff and any unfamiliar faces.
  •  Never share your pins, passwords or personal identification.
  • Install firewalls and protections on your electronic devices, in particular, your computer, phone and laptop.
  • Be careful when using public WiFi networks. Fraudsters can hack into a network, putting your personal data and information at risk.
  • Be conscious of the usernames you choose when online as they can give away your identity to those researching you, for example, 'Firstname.Lastname84'.
  • Don’t be afraid to question someone asking for a copy of your driving license, passport or another form of primary identification. 

What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen

There is no worse feeling than the knowledge that a complete stranger has gained access to your personal information or belongings. 

It’s a situation nobody wants to face, so here’s our quick 7 step guide to follow if your identity is stolen.  

  1. Act quickly. As soon as you become aware of a case of Identity fraud make sure you act upon it immediately. Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at the Action Fraud website.
  2. Report any lost or stolen documents to the organisation that issued them. This includes items such as your passport, driving licence and credit card. 
  3. Inform your bank, building society and credit card company. Get in touch and let them know that you have become victim to a fraud attack and make them aware of any unusual transactions on your statement.
  4. Contact the police and inform them about the theft/loss of your personal information, and any suspicious applications and transitions that you have encountered. Make sure you ask for a crime reference number.
  5. Contact the Post office. Your identity thief may have changed your home address, so contact the post office to prevent mail being sent to the wrong address.
  6. Request copies of your credit file and check for any suspicious credit requests. 
  7. Contact CIFAS (the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service) to apply for protective registration.

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