4 simple steps to protect your identity

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identity theft

Unfortunately, identity theft is a very real threat. It’s important to remain vigilant and understand how to stay safe – both online and offline.

Your identity and your personal information are vital assets to you, so having them violated can be upsetting and stressful. Someone may open a bank account, take out loans or get a driving license in your name.

ID theft insurance is available and can normally be added as an optional extra to your home insurance. This could help you pick up the pieces if you did become a victim of fraud, but obviously prevention is better than cure.

Here are 4 ways to help avoid the identity fraudsters:

Credit check

• Keep an eye on your credit file. By checking on your personal credit file, you can see which financial organisations have accessed your details. Doing regular checks could help alert you if something is afoot. You can get a free credit report online at Experian.co.uk. They also offer a paid service called protect my ID which alerts you immediately if there’s evidence of fraudulent activity.

Mail monitoring

• Be very careful in properties with shared hallways and communal areas where people could access your post. If you’re concerned about your mail being intercepted, perhaps arrange to collect cheque books, cards and important documents at your local branch of your bank.

• Make sure you inform your bank and any relevant organisations if you move house. It’s important to do this promptly.

• The Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee recommends that to reduce the risk of identity fraud when you move, use Royal Mail’s redirection service to direct your mail from your old address to your new one for at least a year.

• Make sure you shred all letters and documents that contain personal information.

Cards, pins and passwords

• A bank will never ask for your full pin or password – always keep them secure. Never keep them written down in an easily accessible place, like a bag or wallet.

• Be wary of anyone contacting you via phone or email asking for personal information of any kind. Always ask which organisation they are calling from and check their name and phone number is genuine before entering into further correspondence.

• Report any lost and stolen cards immediately to your card provider.

• Always vary the passwords you use between accounts. If you consistently use the same password, it could be easier for someone to gain access to multiple accounts under your name.

Online safety

• Make sure you have anti-virus software installed and that it’s up to date.

• Wi-Fi (wireless) networks are vulnerable to eavesdropping, hackers and freeloaders. Make sure you encrypt your network to keep your information and network access protected from unauthorised parties.

• When shopping online, look for clear signs that you’re buying from a reputable website. Look for secure payment methods like PayPal.

• Block unwanted spam and phishing emails with a spam filter. Phishing is an attempt at identity theft where users are lead to a fake website where they’ll be asked for private information. Most modern browsers will warn you of phishing scams.

• Be careful how much information you give away on social networking sites. Online criminals can be very sophisticated in piecing together any personal details you reveal about yourself. Never post any personal information you’d be worried about falling into the wrong hands.

• Check out the Get Safe Online website. As the name suggests, it’s an excellent resource at helping you keep secure on the internet.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.