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How To Avoid Identity Theft

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Perhaps we are too trusting because identity theft is still on the increase and has been recently identified as the UK’s fastest-growing crime. According to the Cabinet Office, this ‘white collar’ criminal activity costs the UK at least £1.3bn every year and alarmingly, is the most difficult to prevent. A typical example is where the victim’s identity is taken over in order to access personal credit accounts, or open new ones in that name. Although banks and financial institutions are continuously introducing more and more highly sophisticated methods to deter identity thieves, those successfully targeted can often take up to 14 months to realise they are victims. It has been estimated that it takes on average some 300 hours to put the records straight and costs in the region of £500 to clear a victim’s name, so what can we do to prevent identity theft in the first place?
Identity theft occurs when someone ‘obtains a loan from a financial institution by impersonating someone else’. The finance companies often have no fail-safe method of discovering that the thief is pretending to be someone else, especially if the original documentation cannot be verified (as is frequently the case with online, mail, telephone, or fax-based transactions).
In reality, this particular crime is considered ‘non-self-revealing’, and the authorities would only be able to trace the thief if they were foolish enough to have the money mailed direct to themselves. In most instances the thief keeps the money, the finance or credit card company is never repaid, the victim is wrongly accused of defaulting on a loan they never authorised … and given a poor credit rating as a result!
It may also come as a surprise to learn that over seventy-five percent of our UK waste contains personal or business information that can be used by fraudsters, who need to obtain personalised documents about an individual in order to impersonate them. On the domestic front they can do this by: stealing mail or picking up rejected junk mail; copying or taking personal documents from your home or workplace; rummaging through rubbish bins containing personal information; advertising bogus jobs (either full-time or work from home based) to which the victims will reply with their full name, address, telephone numbers, and banking details, etc; changing your address therby diverting billing statements to another location to either obtain legitimate information, or to delay discovery of fraudulent accounts.
The easiest solution is to invest in a shredder and make a habit of destroying anything personal that can be traced back to you and your family. Even junk mail from finance companies can be useful to an identity thief and how many of us just throw the envelopes in the bin unopened? Shredders come in all sizes and prices, from the monster than will crunch credit cards and computer discs to the low cost, single sheet machines that can be bought at the Post Office. The shredded paper can then be re-cycled in a variety of ways from parcel packing and composting to pet bedding, but it will no longer have any use to a potential thief.
Never leave utility bills, bank and credit card statements where visitors can see them, and never leave credit cards or cheque books in unattended handbags or briefcases;
Don’t dispose of junk mail (offering finance, loans or credit cards, etc) with your printed name and address in the rubbish. Burn or shred every piece of unwanted paper that contains personal details;
Be wary of giving credit or debit card and bank details on-line. A PayPal account is the safest method for on-line payments.
Always shield the keypad of ATM machines from anyone standing behind you, or from any device that has been planted by identity thieves above the keypad.
Don't carry a written note of PIN numbers in the same wallet as your bank, credit or debit cards.
Get into the habit of regularly checking your card card and bank statements for unfamiliar transactions. If you discover anything suspicious, report the matter immediately.
Prevention is better than suffering the horrors of identity theft, and getting into the habit of destroying unwanted personal documentation might just prevent your life from being torn to shreds. You might think it can’t happen to you … but it can
Make sure that no one can gain access to your mail;
Replace cards back inside your wallet before moving away from a counter or cash machine.
Identity thieves don’t discriminate between the young or old, wealthy or those on a pension; they don’t even care about the financial standing of their victim … all they need is a name and a few personal details to use for fraudulent purposes.
The fact that there's no money in your account isn't a safeguard - it's the banking details the thieves want, not direct access to your cash.


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