Top 10 identity theft hotspots: protect yourself

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East Ham in London is Britain's identity theft capital - where people are seven times more likely than average to have their identity stolen. Outside London, Altrincham in Cheshire poses the biggest ID theft risk for residents.

So where else is the crime rife, and how can you protect yourself.

Research from Experian revealed that East Ham saw a shocking ID theft 27 attempts for every 10,000 people - compared to the UK average of 4. Altrincham meanwhile saw 13 for every 10,000.

London took the whole of the top ten places you are most likely to have your ID stolen:
East Ham 27 in 10,000
Romford 23
Bexleyheath 22
Woolwich 20
Cheapside 18
Stratford 17 (pictured)
Ilford 16
Walthamstow 15
Lewisham 14
Enfield 14

The top ten outside London were:
Altrincham 13 in every 10,000
Hatfield 11
Dartford 9
Camberley 9
Birmingham 9
Manchester 8
Stretford 8
St Albans 8
Slough 7

Who?

Experian found that the group most likely to fall victim to the crime were those living in mixed urban neighbourhoods with low-to-middle incomes. It highlighted that these densely populated areas made it easier to steal the kind of information needed in order to take over someone else's identity.

Another major group that has been targeted is the residents of more affluent towns near the UK's major cities like Manchester, Birmingham and London. Many of these victims are younger couples in new starter homes on the outskirts - typically with average incomes and lots of credit.

Nick Mothershaw, UK and Ireland's director of identity and fraud at Experian, said: "Fraudsters are clearly attracted to rich pickings in more affluent areas, where access to an identity might be harder to obtain but the prize makes it worth the extra effort. In this respect, more affluent locations in close proximity to major cities such as Altrincham in Cheshire, Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, Hatfield and St Albans by London, have become key targets for identity thieves. Clearly identity theft is not just confined to inner-city areas but is a UK-wide problem and a symptom of tougher economic times, highlighting the need for people everywhere to be increasingly vigilant."

Protect yourself

Wherever you live, identity theft is a growing threat, so it's essential to take steps to protect yourself. Experian has produced ten vital steps to prevent ID theft.

1. According to Experian, by far the majority of ID theft is done through the post. A thief can steal mail from a communal area, use a previous address for you, or can forward your post to another address. It's vital to keep a close eye on what you are expecting to receive in the post. This particularly applies to things like bank statements and cheque books. However, even regular catalogues that go astray can give a thief your name and address. If something doesn't arrive, contact the sender and let them know - and contact the Royal Mail too.

2. When you move home, it's also a sensible idea to get your mail forwarded by the Post Office for at least a year. It may seem like a big expense, but it will give you time to change your address with every single organisation you deal with.

3. As soon as you move in, register to vote at your new address (you should be able to do this through your local council website). Lenders will check the electoral roll in order to confirm your address, so if the criminals apply from a different address they will be refused credit.

4. Keep everyone up to date when you move house. Don't rely on having the mail forwarded; tell every institution that you deal with that you have moved home as quickly as possible - to stop anything slipping through the net and being used by the criminals.

5. Buy a personal mail box. If mail is delivered to a communal point in flats or a shared house, have lockable mailboxes installed so that yours is delivered to a secure place.

6. Shred. Buy a shredder, and before you throw anything away that shows your name and address, pass it through the shredder. It may seem like overkill, but even the page of the catalogue with your details on needs to be shredded, as all this information is useful to a crook.

7. Don't tell anyone your details. Phishing for information either by email, post or by phone is still one of the most common ways for thieves to get hold of your details. If anyone calls and asks for information - even if they say they are from your bank - refuse to give the details and insist on phoning them back. You'll need to call back using a number you found elsewhere - and make sure you can hear a dialling tone before you call - to be sure they haven't just stayed on the line.

8. Check your bank and credit card statements carefully. Read through every line to make sure you recognise the transactions, and if you're unsure, call the bank for more details. Even small transactions need to be double-checked, as often a criminal will attempt to put a small payment through first to test the waters.

9. Keep documents like passports and birth certificates carefully and in a safe place - ideally somewhere lockable. If anything goes astray, report it immediately to the organisation that issued it.

10. Get hold of your credit report from an organisation like Experian. This will list out every single credit agreement and application in your name - so check it thoroughly to make sure you recognise everything on the list. It's worth setting aside the time to make this check regularly, so if you do become a victim of ID theft, you can spot it and deal with it before it becomes a major headache.