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    Q506: What is identity theft and what can be done about it?

    Identity theft is when a person uses your details to obtain goods and services without your knowledge or permission. The information is usually obtained from a search of your waste so be wary about what you throw out. It is usually connected with criminal activity and costs the UK an estimated £1.3 billion per year.

    Your personal information is a very valuable tool to a criminal and you should take steps to protect it. A few basic tips are,

    • Never throw away bank/credit card statements and receipts (especially those with your name and card details on), always shred them
    • Always keep valuable documents (driving licence, passport, bank statements) in a safe place i.e. a locked drawer
    • Never divulge your pin number or passwords to anyone, a bank will never ask for them in full
    • Be wary of giving your personal details to anyone over the phone, always check that they are genuine
    • It is very important that when you are moving house:
      • you notify all the Utility Services (phone, water, council etc.), relevant Financial Organisations and anyone else for that matter, that you have moved.
      • Put a postal re-direct on for 12 months in really good time (they need a few days to set it up) to ensure that the organisations have got the message (and you haven't forgotten anyone).
      • Don't think of this as just a useful option, it is essential.
      • Search the house to make sure you have not left any documentation in bins, cupboards, attics. 
    • Carry out a personal credit check on yourself, it can cost as little as £2, see below for details of credit reference agencies,

    Callcredit : 0870 060 1414 (www.callcredit.co.uk)
    Equifax : 08705 143 700 (www.equifax.co.uk)
    Experian : 0870 241 6212 (www.experian.co.uk)

    If you are the victim of identity theft it depends on the circumstances as to whether you, the organisation involved or both report it to the police.

    For example,

    • you have not received a credit/debit card and you were expecting one
    • you have items on your bank or credit card statement that are not yours

    You should report the loss/theft of your credit/debit card to the police and they will record it. With regards to any fraudulent transactions the financial institutions are the first and main point of contact for you to report the matter. They will investigate and if appropriate they will involve the police.

    If however, you are being chased by an institution for a debt that you know nothing about then you are not technically the 'victim' but the organisation who has the debt is and you need to speak to them and they can make the necessary report.

    In most cases you should not be required to pay the debt unless the company/financial institution can prove that you were negligent.

    It is important to contact the institutions involved and make them aware of the situation, do not just ignore the problem it will not go away!

    CIFAS, the UK's Fraud Prevention Service offer a registration service for a relatively small yearly fee. Once registered an entry will be placed against your name meaning that any credit applications will be verified and possibly further identification required. This could delay any credit application but will act as a safeguard against any future fraud, see www.cifas.org.uk.

    For more advice see related websites where there are links to the 'Help for Victims' website and a Youtube guide to the website.

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