Identity theft has been soaring in the past 12 months - driven largely by an explosion in fraud targeting current accounts. Criminals are exploiting new technology and rules that were designed to make switching accounts easier and quicker, and are ransacking thousands of accounts across the UK. The experts say it's essential we take steps to protect ourselves.
Experian found that identity theft has grown so dramatically that it now accounts for more than half of all bank-related fraud. Driving those figures was a massive increase in current account fraud - which has shot up this year. 12 months ago it made up 60 frauds in every 10,000 cases, now it's 79 of every 10,000 - and accounts for almost half of all fraud against current accounts.
Nick Mothershaw, UK and Ireland Director of Identity and Fraud at Experian, said this was largely because of the new rules that make it easier to switch current accounts. He explains: "It's now 18 months on since the formal launch of seven-day current-account switching, helping pave the way for more than 1.2 million switches, which may have prompted more fraudsters to test application systems."
We are also more vulnerable to this sort of attack because so many of us are banking online - or on the phone - providing new ways for thieves to access our accounts. He said: "As more consumers access and apply for financial products across multiple channels, including online and mobile, fraud has also evolved accordingly."
The Experian report also found that credit card ID fraud was rising, and that it remains the product most likely to be targeted by ID fraudsters. In addition, it said that ID theft was becoming more common in car financing, and that it now makes up 79% of all loan fraud.
It's essential we take steps to protect ourselves. Experian says we need to be very careful to guard our personal information. It's not safe to store your account name and password on any device. It shouldn't be stored on your phone, in an email, as a note, or even in the memory of the computer to automatically complete when you open the banking website. Fraudsters can access all of this.
You also need to think twice before adding anything to social networks. Never add anyone you don't know in the real world, and never post the kind of information that's valuable to people trying to steal your ID - like your birthday, email address or pet's name.
Don't make life easier for criminals by making your password easy to guess. You need secure, unique passwords for as many online accounts as possible - ideally all of them. At the very least have a different unique password for each type of service - such as financial services, email and shopping, so that if fraudsters get into your email account they don't automatically have access to your money.
Beware phishing, where criminals will email or telephone and claim to be anyone from your bank to the police. They will come up with any number of excuses to get your to divulge your account number, password, secret words, and PINs - to make stealing from your accounts a straightforward matter. The best way to protect yourself is to assume that any contact out of the blue asking you to confirm or update your personal information is a scam. So do not respond to any of them.
Finally, be alert to the risks that emails can pose. If you receive an email from someone you don't know, don't open it, and certainly don't open any attachments. There's a good chance that these attachments will download some sort of malware onto your computer, which could install spyware onto your device, so that next time you bank online it can harvest your data and send it back to the scammers to use. Just in case any emails fall through the net, it's also essential to have anti-virus software installed on all of your devices - and make sure it is updated regularly.
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