Five ways to protect yourself from fraudsters

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The Independent Online

Identity fraud is one of Britain's fastest growing crimes, and if you are unlucky enough to fall victim you could find yourself facing a serious financial disaster.

According to recent research by the UK's Fraud Prevention Service, CIFAS, more than 59,000 people have fallen foul of ID fraud this year. This is a 36 per cent increase on the same period in 2008.

There are two main types of ID fraud to watch out for. The first involves using a stolen identity to obtain goods or services by deception. The second, known as account takeover, occurs when a criminal hijacks your existing accounts to steal money from you.

CIFAS’s latest report shows the number of account takeovers has increased by a shocking 238 per cent in the last two years.

This is largely a result of the credit crunch. Today lenders are far more risk adverse than they were a few years ago and being accepted for financial products is no easy feat.

Consequently fraudsters are less likely to commit application fraud for loans and credit cards where they could be rejected. Instead, they target the bank accounts and credit or debit cards people already own.

If you’re concerned about rising ID fraud, here are five simple steps you can take to fight back and help reduce the risk.

1. Be vigilant

First of all, it is vital you keep a close eye on all your accounts.

Make sure you regularly check your bank and credit card statements to ensure you know exactly where your money goes each month.

If you see a transaction you don’t recognise or spot any suspicious activity, notify your bank or card company immediately.

Remember, never disclose your PIN number or login details to anyone, and do not keep your passwords written down in an unsecure place.

2. Check your credit rating

It is a sensible idea to check through a copy of your credit report on a regular basis.

Make sure that all the data is accurate, ensure your debts are listed correctly and query any activity you do not recognise.

If a lender contacts you about an application for credit you didn’t make or an account that has been illegally set up in your name, you must inform them immediately.

In the event you have been targeted by fraudsters, notify a credit reference agency as soon as possible. They will be able to deal with the companies involved on your behalf.

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3. Protect your PC

It is crucial your computer has a strong security system in place. This will make it difficult for criminals to attack your PC in the first place.

Make sure your computer has an up-to-date firewall and is protected by anti-virus and anti-spyware. It is also a good idea to use a modern web browser and block spam emails.

As a form of insurance, it is important you ensure all your files are backed up to protect your data from disaster later down the line.

4. Be safe online

Always use strong passwords with a mixture of numbers and letters. Make sure you change your passwords regularly and try not to use the same password for every website you log in to.

Before you enter your personal details online, confirm the website you are using is safe. Check for the padlock at the bottom of the screen and ensure the web address reads "https": the "s" stands for secure.

Avoid opening emails or attachments which are sent to you from someone you don’t know. Beware of "phishing" emails which are used by fraudsters to try and trick you into handing over personal information.

Such emails often appear genuine therefore never give away your details without first checking the authenticity of the sender. Remember, it is extremely unlikely that your bank will ever request personal or financial information via email.

If you use social networking websites such as Facebook or Twitter, be wary about what information you make public as you don’t know who is reading it.

5. Look after your documents

Fraudsters will stop at nothing to get their hands on your details therefore it is vital you safeguard important documents.

If you change your address, remember to ask Royal Mail to redirect your post for a minimum of six months.

If your post fails to arrive or frequently turns up late, contact your bank or credit card provider straight away to ensure it has not been intercepted by fraudsters.

Make sure your post is stored in a secure place, especially if you live in a shared flat or your mail is delivered to a communal area.

Finally, never throw away any post or paperwork containing personal information without shredding it first, and always keep important documents such as bills, wage slips or bank statements in a safe place.

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Victoria Bischoff is a personal finance writer at BeatThatQuote.com

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