One of the fastest growing crimes these days is identity theft. Fraudsters pretend that they're you and use your identity to get credit and spend money.
If that happens to you, your credit rating will probably be damaged, and it'll be harder for you to get a new credit card or mortgage.
You could also end up out of pocket – at least initially. Sorting out the whole mess can take as long as a year.
And don't assume it won't happen to you. Experian, the credit reference company, reckons that approximately two million people in the UK have been victims of ID fraud.
So here are some steps you can take to make sure your identity isn't stolen:
1. Don't use the same password again and again
The average Brit has logins for 26 different accounts and websites. Yet he only uses five passwords spread between those sites.
The prudent approach is to have a different password for every single site. Then if fraudsters got your, say, your linkedin login, they still wouldn't be able to access your credit card.
2. Use complex passwords
The best passwords are at least ten characters long. Mix up numbers and letters, and use upper case and lower case.
3. Don't get caught out by phishing emails
If you see an email supposedly coming from your bank, be very wary. Don't give away your account details to anyone online. Your bank would never ask you for any sensitive information online.
4. Make sure you've got good anti-virus protection on your computer
Free anti-virus software is available from AVG
. Be sure to keep on top of the updates.
5. Check your bank account and credit cards frequently
Make sure there are no strange transactions going through.
6. Check your credit rating
If someone is fraudulently using your identity, that may well affect your credit score. In other words, banks may be more reluctant to lend to you.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have one single credit score. There are three main credit rating companies that provide credit information to the banks. The banks then decide whether they're willing to lend to you or not.
If you want to see what information the credit rating companies have on you, they're obliged to tell you if you pay £2. Or you can sign up for a free 30-day trial with the Experian CreditExpert product which will give you easy access to your information.
And if you're particularly keen, you could continue using CreditExpert once the trial is over and pay £14.99 a month. That's a lot of money and many people won't want to pay that much. But the service does include a web monitoring facility that will flag up any suspicious activity promptly. That web monitoring facility will flag up any suspicious activity, so it may be worth considering.
- 1. Mid-contract price hikes
<p>It is reasonable to assume that if you take out a mobile phone contract at £30 a month for 24 months that's exactly what you'll pay unless you exceed the tariff. Yet mobile phone providers have come under fire for a snag buried in the small print – a clause to allow mid-contract price rises.</p>
<p>Prices are rising by a median of 81p a month and 70% of consumers are completely unaware off this sneaky move, according to Tesco Mobile, so be sure to check any new contracts before you sign the dotted line.</p>
- 1. Land banking
Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.</p>
The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme</p>
- 2. Money mule
Fraudsters recruit unknowing accomplices through email under the guise of offering employment, seeking a personal favour, or through internet shopping sites. The recruits are persuaded into receiving what are essentially fraudulent payments and then passing funds on.</p>
The 'mules' are frequently offered a small financial incentive to encourage involvement and face difficulties in proving their innocence when the fraud is discovered.</p>
- 3. Carbon credit fraud
The scams claim to offer people the chance to profit from carbon credits. Under regulations that permit businesses to emit a tonne of CO2 – the companies claim to offer investment in green projects like a forestry scheme or a solar panel project, which generates carbon credits that are then sold on to heavy industry.</p>
A flashy brochure or website tells of a reliable 'government-backed' scheme which provides reliable returns for investors. Such a scheme doesn't exist however – a reality investors only discovered when they have parted with their cash and the company is untraceable. As with land banking, fraudulent companies are not covered by the FSA so victims have no course for recompense</p>
- 4. HMRC phishing scam
Receiving an email from the taxman saying you are owed a payment may seem like a nice surprise, but it is actually from fraudsters trying to relieve you of your cash instead.</p>
The emails provide a "click-through link" to a cloned replica of the HMRC website. The recipient is then asked to provide their credit or debit card details - all the information the criminals need to clear your account, and sell on your personal details.</p>
- 6. Crash for cash scams
Insurer Direct Line reported a hike in the number of 'crash for cash' scams last year – where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing motorists to crash into them.</p>
They then make bogus claims to the innocent motorist's insurer, often including fictitious injuries and passengers.</p>
- 7. Driving school scams
Learner drivers have been taken for ride by being unknowingly taught by trainee instructors. An investigation by the AA found up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year because one in 10 learner drivers are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job.</p>
- 8. One man mail scam
July saw the arrest of a Leicester postman who stole £46,686 worth of mail over two-and-a-half years. Yogeshbhai Patel, 38, was jailed for two years for stealing mail including 2,000 DVDs and 2,250 games along with CDs and other electrical equipment. He intercepting the valuable packages and spent the money on living a luxury lifestyle including helicopter rides and a trip to Las Vegas.</p>
- 9. Smart meter scam
The Trading Standards Institute reported over 200 cases where elderly homeowners have been targeted by telephone cold callers, purporting to be from their energy supplier and offering energy saving devices which could cut their bills by 40%.</p>
The TSI tested the devices in homes where owners had fallen for the scam, only to find they both failed to satisfy electrical safety standards or deliver any tangible energy savings.</p>
- 10. Thermal camera fraud
Thermal cameras that track ATM pin numbers are the latest weapon in their arsenal and US scientists have warned it is the next threat for this form of crime. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that up to 45 seconds after a person types their pin code into an ATM machine or door entry pad the numbers and even the sequence are still readable by thermal cameras.</p>