ID theft hits all-time high

The UK's Fraud Prevention Service (CIFAS) claims ID theft has hit an all-time high. ID fraud - internet log-ins, postcodes, dates of birth, bank details - has grabbed 50% all frauds identified by CIFAS.

And missing identity details now take 65% of all fraud theft. So what are the best ways to protect yourself?

ID undermined

"With nearly two thirds of all recorded fraud now relating to the abuse of identity details," says Richard Hurley from CIFAS, "organisations and individuals must develop new ways of safeguarding their personal data, account log in details and more. Otherwise, easily compromised data effectively provides the fraudster with a licence to steal money."

Recently close to half a million Yahoo Voice usernames plus passwords were nicked. The rise (and rise) of the smartphone is also fuelling the ID theft explosion. Last year Javelin Strategy & Research claimed 7% of all smart phone users were hit by ID crime, not helped by some apps containing malware.

Experian CreditExpert has warned that too many consumers don't vary their passwords, especially when using the internet (can you blame them, given how hard it is to remember multiple IDs?).

26 different passwords?

Experian reckons the average Briton now has 26 different online accounts - and that 12 million pieces of illegal information were traded online by identity fraudsters in the first four months of 2012 (a figure that dwarfs those from the whole of 2010 when 9.5 million pieces of personal information were illegally traded).

Some apps like - it claims to turn your smartphone into a digital wallet sorting out and storing credit cards, receipts and other financial info - can help.

But the CIFAS warning remains a worry. CIFAS, by the way, is a not-for-profit membership association representing 250 UK organisations across the financial and business and IT sectors sharing details of fraudulent applications for products and services.

Are you targeted?

Keep in mind that there two age demographics that ID fraudsters are increasingly targeting: 35-55 year old women and 18-25 year old men and women. "Both groups," says Financial Fraud Action UK, "use their personal information regularly to conduct their day to day lives whether it's for online shopping or keeping up with friends on social networking sites."

If you believe someone has used your personal details fraudulently, you should contact a credit reference agency such as Experian.

Keep your ID safe advises:

  • If your plastic cards are lost or stolen, cancel them immediately. Keep a note of the emergency numbers you should call. Further details can be found at the Card Watch website
  • Consider also deploying the CIFAS Protective Registration service to stop credit being taken-out in your name without further checking to yourself
  • Considering using the Mailing Preference Service to limit the amount of unwanted mail you receive

The top 10 scams of 2011
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ID theft hits all-time high

Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.

The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme

It is reasonable to assume that if you take out a mobile phone contract at £30 a month for 24 months that's exactly what you'll pay unless you exceed the tariff. Yet mobile phone providers have come under fire for a snag buried in the small print – a clause to allow mid-contract price rises.

Prices are rising by a median of 81p a month and 70% of consumers are completely unaware off this sneaky move, according to Tesco Mobile, so be sure to check any new contracts before you sign the dotted line.

Fraudsters recruit unknowing accomplices through email under the guise of offering employment, seeking a personal favour, or through internet shopping sites. The recruits are persuaded into receiving what are essentially fraudulent payments and then passing funds on.

The 'mules' are frequently offered a small financial incentive to encourage involvement and face difficulties in proving their innocence when the fraud is discovered.

The scams claim to offer people the chance to profit from carbon credits. Under regulations that permit businesses to emit a tonne of CO2 – the companies claim to offer investment in green projects like a forestry scheme or a solar panel project, which generates carbon credits that are then sold on to heavy industry.

A flashy brochure or website tells of a reliable 'government-backed' scheme which provides reliable returns for investors. Such a scheme doesn't exist however – a reality investors only discovered when they have parted with their cash and the company is untraceable. As with land banking, fraudulent companies are not covered by the FSA so victims have no course for recompense

Receiving an email from the taxman saying you are owed a payment may seem like a nice surprise, but it is actually from fraudsters trying to relieve you of your cash instead.

The emails provide a "click-through link" to a cloned replica of the HMRC website. The recipient is then asked to provide their credit or debit card details - all the information the criminals need to clear your account, and sell on your personal details.

Insurer Direct Line reported a hike in the number of 'crash for cash' scams last year – where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing motorists to crash into them.

They then make bogus claims to the innocent motorist's insurer, often including fictitious injuries and passengers.

Learner drivers have been taken for ride by being unknowingly taught by trainee instructors. An investigation by the AA found up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year because one in 10 learner drivers are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job.

July saw the arrest of a Leicester postman who stole £46,686 worth of mail over two-and-a-half years. Yogeshbhai Patel, 38, was jailed for two years for stealing mail including 2,000 DVDs and 2,250 games along with CDs and other electrical equipment. He intercepting the valuable packages and spent the money on living a luxury lifestyle including helicopter rides and a trip to Las Vegas.

The Trading Standards Institute reported over 200 cases where elderly homeowners have been targeted by telephone cold callers, purporting to be from their energy supplier and offering energy saving devices which could cut their bills by 40%.

The TSI tested the devices in homes where owners had fallen for the scam, only to find they both failed to satisfy electrical safety standards or deliver any tangible energy savings.

Thermal cameras that track ATM pin numbers are the latest weapon in their arsenal and US scientists have warned it is the next threat for this form of crime. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that up to 45 seconds after a person types their pin code into an ATM machine or door entry pad the numbers and even the sequence are still readable by thermal cameras.


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