Identity theft is one of the most alarming threats of modern life, and now a case at Birmingham Magistrates Court has revealed another worrying twist to this crime.
A beautician was hounded by x-rated calls, after a former friend assumed her identity on an adult website.
According to the Birmingham Mail, Nikki Bains, a 24-year-old beautician from Ladywood, Birmingham was bemused and horrified when she started receiving up to 40 x-rated calls and texts a day from men wanting to meet up with her.
She told the newspaper: "At first I was angry, then I became scared. It was a malicious thing to do to a friend – I think she has a problem. First I thought it was an ex-boyfriend and blamed him. I also confronted Laurie about it, but she denied everything. I'm still jumpy every time the phone goes."
She contacted police, and they discovered that Laurie Bridges, a 37-year-old disability claimant from Kingsheath in Birmingham, was the culprit. The Mirror reported that the former friend of Bains had fallen out with one of Bains' former boyfriends, so decided to post an advert for Bains on two adult dating websites, Adult Friend Finder and Badoo.
Bridges used Bains' photograph, taken from her laptop, along with her mobile phone number and a message claiming she was wearing lingerie.
Bridges admitted harassment and was given a 12-month community order, and ordered to pay £100 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.
It's an unpleasant case, and one that shows how easy it is for someone to assume your identity, and turn your life upside down, whether that's emotionally or financially.
According to Action Fraud, 7% of the UK population have been victims of identity fraud, which is more than 4 million people. Typically the fraudsters are after your money, with the average individual losing £1,190. CIFAS adds that the number of identity theft cases continues to rise, and warns that we must take better precautions.
In the real world it means keeping a close eye on documents, shredding bank statements and bills before putting them in the bin, and reporting a lost driving licence or passport missing as soon as it goes astray
It's also vital to know when post such as bank statements, bills or cheque books are due, so you know if they fail to arrive. And finally it's important to go through bank statements carefully to make sure you recognise every transaction.
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More than 12 million pieces of personal information were illegally traded online by identity fraudsters in the first quarter of 2012 alone, according to data from Experian CreditExpert- outstripping the entire of 2010.
The vast majority (90%) of this illegally traded information is password and log in combinations - a result of the spiralling number of online accounts many of us now have. Research shows the average Brit uses around five different passwords online, but with an average of 26 different accounts each – this is nowhere near enough protection.
"Using a different password for each account will minimise risks, but if password information is stolen from a website, all accounts using the same details will be compromised, and this information can spread among fraudsters rapidly," warns Peter Turner, managing director at Experian Consumer Services in the UK and Ireland.
Credit and store cards continue to prove particularly attractive to fraudsters and 2012 year has seen 73% surge in the takeover of plastic card accounts by criminals with nearly one quarter of all identity frauds, and 36% of all account takeovers, taking place on these cards.
Richard Hurley, communications manager at CIFAS explains the threat: "Whether it is through using an innocent party's details to open a new account in the victim's name, or hijacking the victim's details and taking over existing accounts, the modern fraudster will continue to pay specific attention to credit and store card accounts as an easy way of obtaining funds and goods, while leaving someone else to pick up the bill."
As if the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) wasn't scandal enough, 2012 has seen fraudsters preying on PPI victims. Consumers have received phone calls from someone who knows their name, announcing that they have won their PPI claim. The caller may also know the lender's name and an estimate of the loan amount.
However, the caller will then request a payment from the consumer in order to receive their compensation. This should signal warning bells, but many innocent victims have fallen for the scam and parted with money only for the bogus firm to disappear with their cash, and of course the compensation that never existed.
Consumers should be wary of all cold calls, particularly those that request cash upfront. There is no need to pay to make a claim for mis-sold PPI – you can claim direct to your bank for free and receive free advice from debt charities like Citizens Advice and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service.
If you do choose to take on the assistance of a claims management firm – never agree to an upfront payment. Reputable firms will only request payment for their services once you have received your compensation from your lender either by cheque or by payment into your bank account.
Phishing – when an unsolicited email arrives in your inbox requesting details to your personal accounts – continues to rise, leading to a surge in online banking fraud. Online banking fraud losses totaled £21.6 million during January to June 2012, according to CIFAS - a 28% increase on the 2011 half-year figure.
The emails trick customers into visiting fake banking websites – often made to look startlingly similar to the real thing - and disclosing their online banking login details. Online banking customers are also being tricked into divulging their bank login details and passwords over the phone to someone they believe is from their bank but is actually a fraudster.
The key point to remember is that banks will never contact you by phone or email and ask you to disclose your details, so always beware correspondence of this nature. Consumers should also be cautious of emails purporting to be from government bodies such as HMRC, or other financial accounts, such as Paypal.
There were over 50 different scams known to the 2012 Olympic Committee, with fraudsters cashing in on the good-natured spirit of the Games and nationwide scramble for tickets. The vast majority of scams took the form of phishing emails – purporting bogus job offers; prize draws; lottery wins and complimentary tickets – all with the sole purpose of duping consumers into sharing personal details or parting with cash in order to claim prizes.
Official tickets for the London 2012 Games were only available for purchase through the London 2012 website and appointed ticketing partners, so any other sources were offering fake or non-existent tickets. As for competition prizes and lottery wins – consumers should remember that it is impossible to win a competition or draw that you did not knowingly enter and that if a prize seems too be good to be true, it probably is.
Insurance is an incredibly complex area of personal finance and different forms of cover are riddled with different hitches that make it crucial to read the small print. Failure to do so could lead you to pay for a product you would be never be able to claim upon, or unknowingly do something that invalidates your claim.
Always buy the right level of cover for your needs and pay close attention to any exclusions in the policy wording. For example, many travel insurance policies for winter sports won't pay out for treatment of injuries incurred while under the influence of alcohol.
Surely the lowest of the low, charity donation fraud – when fake charities play on our sympathy by requesting donations to a worthy cause – is on the rise. Donation requests come in the form of unsolicited emails; phone calls; house visits or being approached in a public place. In many cases, donation requests are linked to a high-profile event, such as Hurricane Sandy that wreaked havoc across America last month.
Either the charity that the fraudster has asked you to donate to doesn't exist, or they are misusing the name of a genuine, often well-known, charity and pocketing your money.
Don't let fraud risks put you off donating – just make the necessary checks to ensure your money is going to the intended cause. Genuine charities are registered with the Charity Commission and print their registration details on all documentation, collection bags and envelopes, so check these details exist and if in doubt, contact the Charity Commission to confirm that they are authentic. Call the helpline on 0845 300 0218 or check the online charity register by visiting charity-commission.gov.uk.
Cases of cash machine fraud, where a device is used to trap money inside the ATM machine, have increased more than 15-fold in London in the past three months. Reported incidents have risen from 150 across the UK in May, to 2,500 in London alone in August, according to figures from Link and London's Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit (DCPCU).
Criminals insert a device called a cash claw behind the guard on the cash drawer of an ATM. The device is undetectable to the public, who use the machine as normal until their cash fails to eject.
"The machine goes out of service and then the criminal comes along, forces open the drawer using a pair of pliers or a screwdriver, forces the device out of the cash machine, bringing the customer's money with it," explains Detective Chief Inspector Dave Carter, head of the DCPCU.
Customers are advised to immediately report any banknotes undelivered from cash machines.
Rogue property developers selling land that they claim has great investment value, when there is little or no chance of it ever being developed, are on the rise again this year. Investigations have lead to a number of convictions in 2012, yet consumers are warned to be remain wary of this big money scam.
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.
In October, PhonepayPlus (the UK's premium rate telephone regulator) fined two firms a total of £450,000 for running a series of voucher scams on Facebook.
The scams, which claimed to offer free vouchers and supermarket gift cards for Tesco and Asda, resulted in members of the public signing-up for expensive premium-rate phone services.
The scams relied on Facebook users innocently sharing or liking the voucher promotions on their status, which included the promise of a voucher worth up to £250 for major retailers. After clicking on the promotion consumers were duped into participating in premium rate competitions, which involved questions sent to their phone at a cost of £5 each.
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Online, it's just as important to take precautions. Take the time to verify emails from organisations asking for any details, and err on the side of caution. Never give away personal details, including passwords or account numbers online. Even if you think you recognise the organisation asking for those details, bear in mind that they may not be who they say they are.
Also be very careful about sharing information on social media. Even if you limit what your share to friends, it's worth highlighting that many people have hundreds of so-called friends, and even those who mean you no ill now can change their mind later, and suddenly they will know everything they need in order to abuse your online identity.
If you want to share your personal details, save them for your best friends in the real world. The person you bumped into at a party three years ago is never a good person to tell your birthday, your address, who you bank with and your mother's maiden name.
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The N-Dubz singer was allegedly caught fixing up a drug deal between an undercover Sun reporter and her dealer friend and part-time rapper Mike GLC.
The illegal activity is likely to cost Tulisa dearly as she has cashed in on her youth appeal through the story of her troubled background and claims to have shunned drugs to grow her music career.
The modern day sporting hero and winner of seven consecutive Tour de France competitions saw his reputation plummet last year when he was found guilty of doping and cheating his way through is career.
Armstrong was stripped of all his titles, ordered to return his prize money, and sponsors couldn't drop him quick enough. He is also being sued by teammates. It is estimated that it will cost him $125m.
After possibly one of biggest public meltdowns in history, the actor lost it with the creator of his TV series Two and a Half Men. His outburst together with outlandish behavior including alleged drug benders, porn stars and drink problems, lead to Sheen being fired from the show. He reportedly earned $1.25m per episode, meaning he lost $36m for the whole season.
At the height of her short career, teen star Lohan was commanding around $7.5m per movie at four movies per year. Yet the pressures of fame at a young age got to The Parent Trap and Mean Girls star, seeing her life spiral out of control as she became embroiled in allegations of drug and alcohol abuse, jewellery theft, and drunk driving. Her earnings quickly plummeted and remain he doldrums.
Singer Chris Brown's reputation became muddied in 2009 amid allegations of assault against his then girlfriend, pop diva Rhianna.
The alleged offense took place the night before both stars were set to perform at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Brown's arrest on felony charges and the brutal images of Rhianna's battered face, led to an huge media frenzy. Overnight, Brown went from whiter-than-white Wrigley's gum and milk spokesperson to the most loathed man in music.
Fashions favourite supermodel could do no wrong until she appeared in the Daily Mirror in 2005 snorting "line after line" of cocaine at a recording studio with then-boyfriend and known drug addict, Pete Doherty.
Dubbed 'Cocaine Kate' by the press, Chanel promptly dropped Moss from their advertising, as did fashion house Burberry and Swedish brand H&M. But Moss managed to recover quickly from the scandal and is now the face of Rimmel, Dior and Mango.
Infidelity cost the golf star more than his marriage and a staggering $100 million divorce settlement – shaving brand Gillette was one of many brands to pull its endorsements following the incident in 2009. Woods also lost deals with Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture following the scandal.
Photos of the Olympic swimmer smoking a marijuana pipe saw Kellogg's pull its sponsorship of the sports star to protect their brand images. Phelps also received a suspension from competition and USA Swimming pulled financial support for three months.
Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho was axed from his Coca-Cola sponsorship deal after appearing with a can of Pepsi during a press conference at Atletico Minerio. The mistake cost the star £1 million in unpaid earnings as his £500,000 per-year contract was set to run until 2014.
While serving as president, Bill Clinton became embroiled in an embarrassing high profile scandal that looked set to cost him his career. The former president was accused of having sexual relations with intern Monica Lewinsky and harassment charges against Paula Jones.
Clinton was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice charges and made a public apology, which only served to strengthen his reputation. He went on to serve two presidency terms and left the office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.