The identity thief's 10 most desirable items

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Theft used to be more straightforward: you could identify your valuables, and keep them locked up. And in the worst case scenario, if someone broke in and stole them, you'd know about it instantly. Identify theft is a whole new ball game. We don't know what's valuable to a fraudster; we don't know how to protect them; and often we have no idea when they are taken.

So what are the 10 most valuable items for an identity thief, and how can we protect them?%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Ideally, a thief needs a number of things in order to steal your identity - and your money. Your full name, address and date of birth are highly useful. But add in any account numbers, passwords, PINs, or details about your borrowing limits, and they're in the money.

Their top ten most useful documents are:

1. The reply to a phishing e-mail

This is a gift to the fraudster. If they have asked you to complete all your personal details, you're essentially handing over everything they need.

2. Online banking information

It may seem impossible to imagine how someone would get this information - but there are two common approaches. The first is to infect your computer with a virus that monitors your keystrokes when you visit online banking websites. Once you enter your password, the details are passed onto the fraudsters. You can infect your computer with the virus simply by clicking on a link in an email or on an advert on a website.

The second is to set up a fake website that looks like your bank, and send you there via a bogus email. You input your details and the fraudsters have what they need.

3. A bank statement

These could be taken in a break-in, but most commonly we are giving them away to fraudsters by putting them out in the rubbish without shredding them. The fraudsters then have your name, address, account number, spending habits and overdraft limit - with which they can do an enormous amount.

4. A credit card statement

This will not include your PIN, so there won't be enough to enable anyone to spend in the UK. However, with your name, address, account number and credit limit, they can easily buy from companies based overseas.

5. Your PINs and passwords

These are essential if a criminal wants access to many of your accounts or to use your payment cards. They can be exposed in a number of ways. You may be a victim of phishing, if you use the same passwords online you could be hacked, but often people write them down and keep them with their cards - making things easy for any thief. If you do this and your money is taken, be warned, many banks and lenders will not refund the money because they will consider you to have been negligent.

6. Your driving licence or passport

This is vital photographic ID that can be amended by an expert and used to prove that he or she is actually you. It means you need to think carefully about whether you ever need to carry these things with you. And when you renew your documents, keep careful tabs on when you expect them to come back through the post.

7. The security code on the back of your credit card

This is used to prove you are in possession of the card when you buy online or by mail or telephone order. Fraudsters who have managed to get hold of a name, address and card data are now calling or e-mailing people pretending to be security staff and asking for the code, which frees them up to steal even larger sums in more locations.

8. Access to your social networking page

You may think you are chatting to friends, but if you include your name, date of birth and even your address you're making things easy for fraudsters. If you include enough information to help them guess passwords and PINs you'll be in even more trouble. It's why it's not a good idea to use children's birthdays or names, pet names or your mother's maiden name as security questions for your accounts.

9. Your CV

Name, address, date of birth, employment history, marital status. Your CV contains so much information that could be used to impersonate you that some online job search services are advising people not to include so many details.

10. A catalogue

This demonstrates that even the most innocuous things can be useful to a fraudster. If it is stamped with your name, address and account number, a thief could easily hijack your account.

Protect yourself

There are a number of steps which will protect you. To defend against phishing and online fraud, you should never send any kind of a reply to someone who contacts you out of the blue - even if they say they are from your bank. No bank will ever send an email asking you to confirm your security information. Never link to your bank website through an email link, and make sure your virus software is kept up-to-date.

Many of these documents, from bank statements and credit card statements to catalogues are either taken from the bin or from your post. It means that when you throw away anything with any personal details on it, you need to make sure it's shredded.

Protecting your post is more complex, because fraudsters exploit it in a number of ways. Once a fraudster has a key document, they have enough information to forward your post to a collection address, so they get their hands on your other finances too. So you need to keep a close eye on what you are expecting - and when - so you know if something has gone astray

Alternatively they may be picked up from a communal space if, for example, you live in a block of flats. If your post arrives in this sort of space you should look into getting a secure mail box.

Sometimes they will pick up stray mail from a previous address and use this to adopt your identity and borrow in your name. To protect yourself, after you move you need to ensure all post is forwarded for long enough to give you a chance to tell everyone you have moved. You also need to make sure you are on the electoral roll at your new address, so they can't apply for credit at any other address.

In addition, it's well worth checking your credit record on a regular basis with a reference agency like Experian. If anything slips through the net, doing a regular check will help you ensure no-one has taken out any accounts or loans in your name without you being aware of it.

How to dispute your credit record
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The identity thief's 10 most desirable items

Don't wait until you need to apply for credit to view your credit record – do it now so you know where you stand and can deal with any disputes. When applying for credit, you give the lender permission to view your record, so it makes sense to view it yourself first.

You can access your record via any of the main credit agencies in the UK. By law, all the credit agencies are required to provide you with a one-off copy for just £2 so don't be hoodwinked into signing up to pay a monthly fee.

Your report shows what credit accounts you've had and whether you've made repayments on time and in full. According to Experian, items such as missed or late payments stay on your credit report for at least three years, while Court Judgments for non-payment of debts, Bankruptcies and Individual Voluntary Arrangements stick around for around six years.

Your credit report shows the current address at which you are registered to vote as well as details of other addresses you've been linked to in the last six years. Another section lists people you have a financial connection with, such as a joint mortgage. When you apply for credit, lenders are able to look at their credit history as their circumstances could affect your ability to repay what you owe.

Scrutinise your record to make sure there are no mistakes. Even a minor error such as an incorrect address or wrongly linked account could hinder your chances of being approved for credit so make sure all your details are correct and that all your borrowings are on record. If there is a discrepancy, contact the three main credit agencies to get it corrected.

A default notice is note that a lender puts on your credit file if you fall behind with your payments. It is a warning sign to future lenders about your reliability to repay credit and could mean that they will be less likely to lend to you or will increase the interest rate.

If the default notice is incorrect, perhaps because you have repaid the loan in full or did not take out the credit and suspect that you have fallen victim to fraud, you can apply to have a default notice removed. A default notices will only be removed if it is factually incorrect – not simply because you are embarrassed by it.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

If you are unhappy with the response or would just like to explain a missed payment on your file you can send a Notice of Correction. This is a statement of up to 200 words that will be added to your file. Although lenders don't have to take this information into account, it at least gives you the chance to tell your side of the story.

Experian states that agencies will also help you escalate the dispute to a third party arbitrator if necessary, such as the Information Commissioner's Office.


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