Protecting your identity online, part 1

Published 12/05/2004 16:08   |    Updated 23/04/2008 11:54
How can I protect my identity online?


What is identity theft?


Identity theft is when your identity is stolen by a criminal who then impersonates you and uses your personal details for fraudulent purposes. By assuming your identity, they can then gain access to your personal details and use this information to obtain credit, buy goods online or to make other fraudulent gains. They may even make money from selling your details on to a third party.



How do I recognise it?


Unfortunately, by the time you recognise it, you are likely to be a victim already. Some examples include:

  • Refusal of credit and loan applications
  • Collection agencies contacting you for overdue debts that you have never incurred.
  • You may receive information on an apartment you have never rented, a job you have never had or a house you have never bought.



How does it work?


Identity theft happens when an unauthorised person gains access to your personal details such as your name, credit card number, bank account details, PIN, PPSN number or your National Insurance Number and uses it for fraudulent purposes. Identity theft can happen in a number of ways.


If it happens online it's called a "Phishing Attack". This is when you receive, usually by email, a request for your personal information from a person or organisation you assume is trustworthy. The information you send by return, is then used to "steal" your identity so that credit, loans or even rental agreements are applied for in your name.


Other common methods for obtaining your personal information include:

  • Dumpster Diving: the fraudster goes through your rubbish and steals copies of utility bills, financial statements etc. that can be later used to impersonate you for fraudulent purposes
  • Intercepting your Post: If you think your mail is being interfered with, contact the Post Office straight away and ask them to investigate. If your post is delivered to a central point, such as the hall of a block of apartments, make sure that you always collect it promptly, and always lock your postbox.
  • Browsing social network sites: The fraudster will see if they can obtain any personal information you have submitted to a social networking site.
  • Skimming: This is when special equipment is used to steal credit or debit card details when the card is being used at an ATM or in a store.
  • Using old computers you throw away: When you throw away an old computer or mobile phone, personal information like your bank account or credit card details may still be stored on the hard drive. This can easily be restored by a fraudster and used for criminal gain.



See also: What to do if you suspect if you are a victim of identity theft and how to prevent it from happening.


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