Sometimes you get a shock when you open your credit card statement, and it's not just because of the phenomenal amount you spent on clothes last month. Occasionally there may be transactions on your credit card statement that don't look familiar. Sometimes this is a simple banking error, but it's worth paying attention, because you may be a victim of identity theft.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the theft of personal information that can be used to identify individuals. It is closely related to identity fraud, which is the use of that information to obtain goods and services by deception. Identity fraud may also mean using that information to create a false identity.
Signs Of Identity Theft
Aside from the appearance of unrecognized transactions on your credit card or bank statements, other signs of identity theft are:
- Getting bills, invoices or receipts for goods or services you haven't ordered
- Getting turned down for a credit card or loan in spite of having a good credit rating
- Finding that a mobile phone contract has been set up in your name without your knowledge
- Receiving letters from solicitors or debt collectors for debts that you know nothing about
- Your post goes missing
- Someone seems to be messing with your rubbish bags
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
There are many ways in which identity fraudsters can get hold of your personal information. In some cases, this may be through theft of your wallet or purse, burglary of your home, or pilfering from your letterbox. Identity fraudsters look for personal information such as your name, address, date of birth and so on. These can help them to set up new identities and even fraudulent businesses.
Other ways of stealing your identity include:
- Diverting your post through a change of address form
- Hacking into your computer to get hold of private information
- Monitoring ATM transactions or using special machines to get your PIN number
Fraudsters who get hold of your personal information will find it easy to open bank accounts, get credit card, loans, passports, driving licences and benefits in your name. They are unlikely to be strict about making payments on time, so it is your credit rating that will be affected.
How To Protect Against Identity Theft
There are many ways to make it more difficult for identity fraudsters to get hold of your personal information. First of all, get a copy of your personal credit file from time to time. This is inexpensive and you will be able to see if anyone has applied for credit in your name.
Let banks and credit card companies know when you move house and get your mail redirected. This will make it more difficult for someone to steal your letters and identity. At the same time, it's worth checking that no-one is redirecting your mail without your consent.
Keep personal documents in a locked filing cabinet, safe or drawer or in a bank safety deposit box. Receipts should be shredded immediately if you don’t want them. Throwing them away makes it easy for fraudsters to get credit card numbers. If personal documents (passports, driving licences, credit cards, debit cards and so on) are lost or stolen report the loss immediately.
Finally, keep your PIN and your passwords secure. The fewer people who know about them, the less likely they are to get into the wrong hands.