How to protect personal information

how to protect personal information

By Lisa Hardstaff.

We use personal information all the time, probably without even a second thought.   With more and more people doing their shopping online – which could make people more vulnerable to identity fraud, credit information expert Lisa Hardstaff, has a few useful tips for how to protect personal information.

Over the last few months a number of companies have suffered significant attacks from cyber criminals, leaving consumers worried about the security of their personal details. Whether it is entering a DOB when signing up to a new online brand, to telling Facebook friends about a new pet or your latest holiday, the internet is a hive of personal information.   But are we all taking the right precautions when it comes to keeping our personal data safe?

You might not think ID fraud could ever happen to you – but according to data from the UK fraud prevention service, CIFAS*, in the first quarter of 2015 over 80% of all identity fraud was attempted or perpetrated online. There were 34,151 confirmed instances of identity fraud, a 27% increase compared to the same period in 2014. Probably most worrying of all for Mutton Club readers is that the average age of a female identity fraud victim is 46 years.

It is therefore important that sensible steps are taken to reduce the risk of identity theft.

What happens to hacked information?

It can take as little as three pieces of personal information for a fraudster to start to be able to steal an identity. They can start by opening accounts in your name, which is bad enough. But they can also target victims with more sophisticated email and phone scams, which may trick an individual into giving them access to even more personal information.

So it’s important to think about what information you share with other people and organisations.

Forty-something women are prime targets for scammers

It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you, but the latest figures show us a different story. According to CIFAS, middle aged, financially comfortable consumers who may not need to apply for new credit very often, may actually be ideal targets for ID thieves.


Whilst these individuals probably already check their monthly bank and credit card statements, fraudulent spending on existing accounts isn’t the only way that ID fraudsters work. Opening new accounts in an innocent victim’s name is also a prime tactic for fraudsters.

Equifax research** shows that 11% of women we surveyed keep their passwords and bank details (excluding PIN) on their phone. When it comes to online banking, 36% of women say they check their balance, using their smartphone, whilst 25% will transfer money between personal accounts and 23% transfer money to people they know.

When asked where they do their online banking using their mobile device, 39% of women said they access banking services anywhere, whenever they need to. Reassuringly, 40% only access their online banking at home, offering them added protection via secure broadband or home Wi-Fi connections.

Our figures show that 39% of women we surveyed use the same password for more than one account, including online shopping websites. This leaves them very vulnerable should a site be hacked.

Prevention is better than cure

Despite sustained campaigns by government, consumer bodies and other organisations, it appears that some consumers continue to be reckless with their personal information, perhaps not realising just how little fraudsters need to take control of their accounts, or to apply for credit and make purchases using their details.  We always urge consumers to treat their personal data as carefully as they would cash. Fraudsters need only a few pieces of information to begin fraudulent activity, so it’s crucial to be vigilant – and that includes keeping an eye on credit information for any changes or unauthorised account openings.

How to protect personal information

  • Regularly apply for a copy of your credit file to look out for any unauthorised activity, for example on www.equifax.co.uk
  • Keep your passwords secure and ensure they are not easy to guess
  • Create stronger passwords by adding capital letters, numbers and symbols. Or use three words that are memorable for you.
  • Use the same credit card for all your online purchases, so if your information is stolen or compromised it is easier to follow up
  • Don’t click on a link from an email if you are unsure of the sender, go to the website directly
  • Always check bank statements and credit card statements carefully
  • When using online banking, ensure people can’t view your details and log out of websites, rather than just closing the window
  • Never store your passwords on smartphone, tablet or laptop devices – ensure these devices are themselves properly password protected – because if they are stolen, fraudsters may have access to all your online accounts
  • Make sure your computer has the latest virus protection that ideally updates hourly and you have a firewall
  • If you are disposing of an old computer, or other electronic device that stores data make sure you remove the information from the hard drive
  • Be careful what you carry around in your handbag. Credit card receipts, payslips, driving licence, bank statement, utility bills all reveal a lot of information about you and a combination of these can be a fraudsters dream

Fraud by type

Identity Fraud – applications for products or services made using the stolen identity of an innocent victim, or an entirely fictitious identity.

Facility Takeover Fraud also known as Account Takeover – where a person (facility hijacker) unlawfully obtains access to the details of the ‘Victim of Takeover’, namely an existing account holder or policy holder, and fraudulently operates the account or policy for his or her (or someone else’s) benefit

Application Fraud – Applications for products or services with material falsehoods (lies) or false supporting documentation (where the name provided has not been identified as false)

Misuse of Facility Fraud – the fraudulent use of an account, policy or some other facility e.g. paying in an altered cheque or knowingly making a payment that is going to bounce/be declined.

Asset Conversion – the unlawful sale of an asset subject to a credit agreement where the lender retains ownership of the asset (for example, a car or lorry)

False Insurance Claims – when an insurance claim, or supporting documentation, contains material falsehoods (lies)

Source: CIFAS

 

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Equifax LWP_0006Lisa Hardstaff, is the credit information expert at Equifax, one of the UK’s credit information providers.   

 

 

 

 

* The CIFAS Fraudscape report, published in March 2015.


** Independent survey of 1000 people across the UK conducted over the weekend of 14th November 2015 by Gorkana Surveys.

 

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