Should you change your online passwords? Probably yes, and soon. The world's largest credit data company warns of a huge surge in UK fraud applications, from bogus loans to mobile phishing. Even fraudsters taking control over your bank account are up more than 120% on 2013.
How safe are you?
246 daysIt depends on where you live - and affluent neighbourhoods aren't necessarily excluded. Last year Experian warned of a series of UK fraud hotspots, with prosperous Altrincham in Cheshire named as the most vulnerable geographic location outside London (London's East Ham was named as the capital's worst fraud hotspot).
This time around, Experian says bank account takeover has rocketed - with a staggering 123% hike of 110 confirmed cases a month in 2012 to 246 in 2013. Recent worry about eBay security - hackers stole the details of 233m customers - has added to the unease.
Pete Turner, MD of Experian Consumer Services UK&I, reckons it takes on average 246 days to discover you have become a victim of fraud. "That's a long time for a criminal to have and use your identity for their gain, and potentially harm your reputation and credit rating."
New debtsCredit applications are a growing source of concern. One in 10 victims became aware they had been a victim of fraud when they were notified of a new credit agreement by the lender or company targeted by the fraudster says Experian.
Some discover fraud theft when they receive a debt collection notification to recover debt taken out in their names.
ID theft is also being targeted by bodies like CIFAS, a not-for-profit organsiation which shares suspected data applications across the UK's financial, retail and IT services. You can also report ID theft through Action Fraud.
Reset your passwordsStill, it's estimated Britons have 19 online accounts each with an average of seven different passwords. But one in 10 never changes their online passwords and one in 20 uses the same passwords for all of their online accounts, claim security experts.
Consider changing your password (some recommend every 90 days) and checking its strength (try The Password Meter or Strength Test).
Better ATM security meanwhile is on the way: Poland recently became the first country in Europe to see finger vein ID technology introduced (though the technology has been around in Japan for some time).
Top five things that fraudsters look for - and how you can better protect yourself (Experian advice)
- Smartphones can hold lots of information, including cached passwords to online accounts and apps, contacts and other personal information. Always, then, use a home screen lock
- When banking online, use strong passwords with more than 8 characters (ideally 10-12), and avoid using words from the dictionary
- The security code on the back of your credit card - when using your debit or credit card online, ensure the site is encrypted (indicated by a padlock symbol) and that the site you are paying is legitimate
- Don't store account names and passwords or digital pictures of your passport. Also remember that public Wi-Fi networks are riskier than private networks, so be careful with the information you access
- Social media sites can reveal your date of birth, email address and possibly even enough information which could help in identifying possible PIN and/or passwords