Has someone taken a loan in your name?

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The good news is that identity theft fell overall last year. The bad news is that there were huge spikes in certain kinds of ID fraud - and one of the largest growth areas was around loan fraud. It's a particularly frightening prospect, because often you will have no idea that you are a victim of this kind of crime until weeks or even months after an attack. By that time you could already find yourself owing thousands of pounds.

So what can you do if it happens to you?

Loan fraud is a kind of identity theft - because a fraudster will access your personal details and use them to take out a loan in your name. Once they have the cash they will cut and run, leaving hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of debt in your name.

CIFAS says that there was a surge in loan fraud in 2013 - up an incredible 55% over the year. It speculated that this could be because increased protection against other forms of identity theft were pushing fraudsters towards loan fraud - where they found new opportunities.

One of the most widely reported areas of growth was within the payday loans industry. A spate of stories hit the headlines in spring last year from people who had never taken out one of these loans - who had been contacted out of the blue with demands that they repay huge sums of money.

Discovering the theft

It's a strange kind of crime, because you won't know about it immediately. The first hint that you have become a victim is often when you receive a letter reminding you that you haven't made a payment on a loan. Up until this point you will have no idea that money is being borrowed in your name.

It means that the fraudsters could have borrowed from a number of different lenders during the same period - to maximise the money they can make at your expense.

In the case of some payday loans, some victims only discover they have been used by fraudsters when the loans company takes hundreds of pounds out of their current account. This is because some firms are permitted to take a repayment of the loan directly from your account if you don't make payments. The fraudsters simply link your current account to the loan, so when they fail to make repayments, the money comes out of your account.

What can you do?

Your first step should be to contact the police either by calling 03001232040 or going to the form on www.actionfraud.police.uk. This will help the authorities track down the fraudsters, and it will provide you with a crime reference number which you will be able to use when you contact the lender to try to put things right.

Next you need to get in touch with the lender concerned, and report that you have been a victim of fraud. They should open up a case within their fraud department, which should immediately stop you being chased for any repayments. Once the department is satisfied that this was a case of fraud, the debt will be wiped out.

It's also worth contacting the Victims of Fraud team at a credit ratings agency like Experian. They will help you obtain a copy of your credit report and then go through it with you to identify anything else that may be connected with the fraud. That way you can be sure to have caught any other potential instances of loan fraud.

Once fraud has been established, Experian will be able to remove any record of the borrowing and failure to make repayments from your credit records - so your credit record doesn't suffer.

The team will also be able to work with other lenders to make them aware that you have been a victim, so that any further applications in your name are assessed with additional scrutiny. They may also add extra security features to your report, to make it harder for a criminal to impersonate you in order to take loans out in your name.

It's also worth making a note in your diary to check your credit report regularly, in case the criminals target you again.

No-one will try to tell you that all of this is stress-free. The fact that someone has the ability to impersonate you, and use it to sully your name, is horribly unsettling. However, with a bit of effort it is possible to ensure that it doesn't have any long-term impact on your financial position.