Protect yourself against identity theft

Identity theft is a growing problem both here in the UK and abroad, and the Internet has made this particular type of fraud even easier. If a criminal manages to get hold of your personal details and financial information, they are able to do anything from getting a credit card or loan to applying for benefits and even getting a passport.

Prevent ID theft

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It is essential to protect your identity as much as possible to prevent these fraudsters from taking advantage, so here are a few tips to help you keep your details safe.

Passwords and security
With so many online accounts for everything from email to banking, passwords have become the bane of many people's lives. Yet being lazy with your choices does put you at risk. A strong password includes letters, numbers and symbols, and it's best to avoid the obvious such as date of birth, pet or child's name, for example. Instead try to pick a random word, then simply change some of the letters to numbers and symbols. Don't use the same password for everything, and never write down your passwords and pins.

If you regularly shop or make transactions online, it is also important to check that the site you are using is secure. Where you are required to enter payment details, the link should include a padlock symbol, which shows that the payment processing is secure, and once you've clicked on the link, the address should begin 'https://' rather than just 'http://'. If you are in any doubt about the security of online payment processing, look elsewhere. Ewallets and payment services such as PayPal may be a safer option.

Beware of any emails that ask you to click on a link and enter your card details. Fraudsters are skilled at copying web pages - and what looks like your usual banking site could be a set up to get your card details. If you're unsure, type the url of your bank into the address bar - never click on links in emails.

Social networking is another area that thieves target, and many Internet users remain blissfully unaware of the amount of personal information that is open to public view. There have been many cases of thieves targeting empty properties after the owners posted on Facebook to say they were going on holiday. Check your privacy settings and make sure only the people you know can see your details.

Be vigilant
You might be surprised how easy it is for criminals to steal your identity. They have been known to rifle through bins and obtain enough information from old letters or bills, so make sure you shred documents, particularly those containing financial information, before throwing them away.

Cold calling is another way that the fraudsters dupe householders into giving away their personal details, so it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you have not dealt with the person or company that is calling, and are being asked for passwords or financial information, leave well alone. Real banks and financial institutions will never ask you to give your PIN over the phone.

Despite warnings on every ATM, many Brits still don't bother to shield their PIN number when withdrawing money. Covering up at cash machines is a good habit to get into, and be aware of others standing too close. If something strikes you as suspicious about the machine - for instance if the card slot looks different in any way - try elsewhere.
Spotting a problem
As many as one in five Britons has lost money to cyber criminals, and often the first the victim knows about it is when they receive demands or statements from creditors for an account they did not sign up for themselves.

In order to catch the criminals before they can do serious damage, it is essential to keep a close eye on your money. Check statements regularly, checking for mysterious payments or direct debits or payments for incorrect amounts. If you spot anything out of the ordinary, contact your bank immediately, and if you think you have been the victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud.

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