The problem of identity theft in the UK is a serious one and many individuals as well as businesses have had to face this scourge and are always apprehensive about how to make sure they avoid this specter of finding out suddenly one day that their identity has been impersonated due to their carelessness or due to the carelessness of some retail store, bank or government body.
The most prevalent kind of identity theft is the financial one where criminals take on the identity of an individual in order to get financial gains through goods, services or pure cash. In the business world, these criminals clone a particular business unit or organization to gain financially.
Other kinds of identity theft include simple impersonation by a criminal when he or she is apprehended. Some resort to this in order to gain benefits of medical treatment in certain countries that require the individual to have health insurance cover. Some cases of total identity cloning have also come up but fortunately they are quite rare.
Some recent instances in the UK include the theft of some 25 million records from the HM Revenue and Customs, the loss of a laptop that contained about 11 million records pertaining to the Nationwide Building Society, more than 3 million personal details of learner drivers that were again put to great risk when the computer of the third party agency working for Driver and Vehicle licencing organisation went missing and credit card details of customers stolen from the retail store TK Maxx.
So what is the importance of personal identity and why do criminals find this to be a lucrative opportunity to make money?
Well, since we still do not have a single document in the UK that can be used all across the country to prove one’s identity, many organisations are compelled to use personal details like the name, address, place and date of birth and so on through a whole host of papers such as the passport, driving licence, marriage certificate, bank and utility statements etc. These documents tell authorities who you are and unlike DNA, fingerprints which cannot be duplicated are used by criminals to access information and become that person in order to gain financial benefits or to perpetrate frauds. You therefore have somebody opening a bank account or accessing a loan using your identity or somebody getting credit cards making use of your personal details and running up huge spends on it at your expense. Other more serious cases of illegal immigration, money laundering, acts of terrorism have also occurred due to identity theft taking place.
Though organisations are putting in place various check mechanisms to prevent such frauds from happening, more needs to be done to eliminate this problem totally.
On a personal level, if you suspect your identity has been compromised, you should do the following immediately:
Get the latest credit history report so that you know whether any attempt has been made to acquire loans using your personal information. It also gives your updated outstanding debt as accumulated by you.
Contact the banks where you hold accounts and the building society to verify whether any financial impropriety has taken place.
Contact all utility agencies such as electricity, water, cable television, internet etc and check with them about any attempts having been made by anybody to change current arrangements.
Get your computer thoroughly checked by a professional for any leakage or spyware that may have been introduced to get access to any of your records.
In terms of what you can do to ensure that your identity is not stolen or compromised, you need to pay attention to the following:
Tear up, shred or burn receipts which display your card number
Make sure you do not use the same password for all accounts
Do not use your mother’s maiden name or your birth place as security passwords
Beware of phishing mails and do not respond to them.
Most importantly, if you find out there has been an identity theft, it is essential to remain calm and keep copies of all documentation you have exchanged with the various government and other authorities for future reference if required in order to fight any legal battle.