When Keeley Hawes read the first scripts for this summer’s new ITV drama series, Identity, some of the plots were strangely familiar. The show centres on a police squad investigating identity theft and fraud – and Keeley already knew how the victims of this fast-growing crime feel.
“I have been a victim myself, so the stories weren’t so much of a shock,” says the actress, who is best known for Spooks and Ashes to Ashes. “It was simply someone who worked in my house, came and took my credit cards and spent £7,000.”
And she’s far from the only sufferer. Last year, Experian’s Victims of Fraud service saw a 20 per cent rise in the number of people impersonated by criminals to max out their credit, clear accounts or borrow money in their names – or all three. Meanwhile, CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, reported a 22.86 per cent rise in victims of ID fraud in the first quarter of 2010, with almost 27,000 people affected.
These 10 simple steps should help you not to join them.
1. Keep valuable items and documents, such as credit cards, chequebook, passport and bank statements, safe when you’re not using them – preferably under lock and key.
2. Shred sensitive documents before throwing them out, especially bank and card statements or anything giving account data. Get into the habit of deleting your name and address from routine post too – that way, you won’t let anything slip through.
3. Don’t give your ID away to cold callers or unsolicited e-mailers – you don’t know what they might do with personal information.
4. Check all financial statements carefully, looking for unfamiliar transactions that could indicate ID fraud.
5. The Home Office recommends checking your credit report regularly. It lists your credit accounts, repayment history and any new applications – if you spot anything suspicious, you can stop trouble before it escalates. It’s free to see your Experian credit report with a 30-day trial of CreditExpert.
6. Always use the privacy settings on social networks and be careful how much you tell your online friends. Anything you might use as a PIN or password, such as an anniversary, family birthday or nickname, shouldn’t be public. And remember to update your firewall and virus protection software.
7. Redirect your post when you move house – intercepting post is an easy way to steal your ID. Report any missing mail immediately, in case it has been taken or sent on to another address.
8. Never share your PINs or passwords and don’t write them down in a form that anyone else might see and understand. Don’t use the same security details for several accounts, either – it’s like giving a crook the key to your finances.
9. Follow up if you’re unexpectedly refused credit – a criminal could have ruined your credit rating by running up debts in your name.
10. Tell the police and any organisation that might be affected if potentially sensitive items are stolen – for example, tell your bank if your cheque book has gone missing and contact your card company if your credit card disappears.