Beware what you share online
Filed under: Scams & Fraud
More than 12 million pieces of personal information were illegally traded online by identity fraudsters in the first four months of 2012, according to new figures from Experian CreditExpert. So how can you protect yourself in this increasingly digital age?
Staying Safe Online
The first four months of 2012 have already outstripped the entire of 2010 when 9.5million pieces of personal information were illegally traded, the Experian CreditExpert study reveals. A huge 90% of the illegally traded data this year consisted of password and login combinations due in part due to consumers having a spiralling number of online accounts.
Further research from the credit experts found that the average Briton now has 26 different online accounts with 25-34-year olds being the most prolific, with no fewer than 40. This figure is set to grow further, with nearly one in five of Britons (17%) signing up to six or more new accounts every month.
Despite the maze of accounts we hold, Brits use an average of just five different passwords, with a with a quarter (24%) admitting to using a single password for the majority of profiles, and one in 25 (4%) sticking with the same login details for all their accounts.
"The reason password and login combinations make up nine out of ten illegally traded pieces of data is because they give access to a huge amount of other valuable information, such as address books and related accounts," explains Peter Turner, managing director at Experian Consumer Services in the UK and Ireland.
"Using a different password for each account will minimise risks, but if password information is stolen from a website, all accounts using the same details will be compromised, and this information can spread among fraudsters rapidly."
The huge number of dormant accounts also poses a risk as not using accounts means passwords are left unchanged. In fact, two thirds of those in the study admitted to having defunct profiles that hold valuable personal and financial information, including social network profiles, email addresses and shopping accounts.
The widespread threat of identity fraud means that even if you been lucky enough not to fall victim to it yourself, it is likely that you know someone who has as some two million Brits have been caught out.
The consequences range in severity and often the first a victim knows of their identity having been stolen is discovering debts have been run up in their name, or refused loans or credit cards or turned down for mobile phone contracts.
- Avoid the obvious Forget using your pet's name or first street you lived on – these can be discovered on your profile or used elsewhere in your account details, such a security question.
- Find the right length Try to keep passwords at least eight characters in length – 10 or more is preferable. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.
- Mix it up Try to include upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Rather than words, use the initial letter of a memorable sentence. "I need to choose a new password right now" could become "In2c@nPrN".
- Find a system Having a different password for every account can be confusing so try a systematic approach like basing them on lyrics of your favourite songs or lines from films, giving a sequence of passwords that you can work through.
- Check your credit report Regularly checking your credit file is key to spot any suspicious transactions, such as people applying for loans or cards in your name. This is often the first way that you will know your details have been leaked.