We live in a world where information about you can be used to commit fraud. This type of fraud is called identity theft.
Below are suggestions for how to protect yourself and steps you can take to reduce your risk when your information has already been stolen, which it very likely has due to the considerable number of data breaches.
Has your information been stolen? You can run a simple check here
Frank Abagnale is a famously successful fraudster who subsequently worked for the FBI for many years. He has given many talks about his colourful personal history and suggestions for how you can protect yourself from fraud. While Mr Abagnale’s discussions are focussed on the American legal framework, the material largely transposes into the UK situation.
He suggests that there is so much information about you online that fraud has become much easier. Some has been stolen. However, and rather ironically, you may have put plenty of it there yourself through your social media accounts. Here are a couple of incomplete but useful suggestions for how to reduce your social media risks from Experian (the credit rating agency) and Hootsuite who are more useful despite taking a more corporate approach.
A key point of reducing your social media risk is to avoid using your accounts to login to other sites. So stop using Facebook’s login for any other site.
Improve your web security You can improve the security of your website logins by using two factor authentication. This is in addition to having a wide range of passwords, not a substitute. There is a great introduction to two factor authentication here.
The most common form of two factor authentication is using your mobile to authenticate your login to websites. Thieves know this and as a result are increasingly using strategies to steal access to your mobile phone number as a way to hack your web accounts. Until the utility companies take this more seriously, your options for protecting your mobile number are limited. This suggests that it is time to move away from SMS authentication in favour of alternatives. These include authentication apps that run on your mobile phone and computer are better for this reason.
Keeping an eye on your credit file Often the first obvious sign of trouble is when your credit file shows that someone else has been impersonating you and running up debts. You can keep an eye on it using a credit file checker. Frank Abagnale made the point that you need to be vigilant about yourself and your children. You may want to run regular checks on their credit files which could otherwise have issues that only come to light years later.
Finally, credit cards offer a variety of protections for your purchases. It may be worth using one for these protections.
Email fraud And one more thing: an increasingly common fraud is to send you an email from a correspondent you know telling you of a change of bank account. You then use the details… and the money has gone astray. Do check with your correspondent by an alternative means that the email information is genuine.