Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Residents and businesses warned of dangers of identity theft

A Lancashire detective who has himself been the victim of identify theft is urging others to take precautions with their personal details at home and at work.

The officer’s warning comes as part of National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, which is now in its sixth year.

Fraudsters gain £1,000 on average from every stolen identity, according to the National Fraud Authority, the government agency that runs Action Fraud. In very serious cases, it can take you 200 hours to repair the damage done to your identity – that’s the equivalent to a year’s annual leave.

Detective Constable Tony McClements, of Lancashire Constabulary’s economic crime unit, found his identity had been stolen to set up an account with an on-line DVD rental company.

“Identity theft is becoming a real issue now, with many innocent people falling victim to this crime," he said. "When my details were hijacked, I only discovered the problem after I spotted an unidentified payment on my monthly statement. It took several weeks and a lot of letter writing to rectify the issue.”

DC McClements explained that there were a number of steps that individuals – and businesses - can take to try and safeguard themselves. These include:
  • Shredding any correspondence that you are disposing of, especially utility bills and statements. Try to utilise a cross-cut shredder as these are more secure than straight shredders, although more expensive to buy.
  • Check credit card and banks statements regularly for any unidentified transactions.
  • If shopping online, it is advisable to use a credit card as (dependent on terms and conditions) this may afford you greater security in the event of identity theft.
  • Be wary of emails which look similar to those of your bank/ credit card company (known as ‘Phishing’) in which they purport to be conducting security checks. Never input your PIN number online nor give it out over the telephone. If you receive any such requests notify your bank immediately.
  • Protect your bank cards. If you apply for a new one or a replacement, keep track of the length of time it takes to arrive. If there is a delay, contact the issuer immediately. When a card arrives ensure you sign and activate it as soon as possible.
  • Keep track of the delivery of bank statement s- any delay could mean that the statement has been intercepted and somebody could be trying to steal your identity. Contact the issuer if there are any delays.
  • If you go an unusual length of time without receiving any post, contact Royal Mail Customer Care on 08457 740 740 to ensure that nobody has activated a ‘mail divert’ without your knowledge.
  • If you change address and telephone number(s), ensure you notify all your service providers. 
  • Keep safe online, ensure your computers have the latest anti-virus software in place and with all the latest updates installed.
DC McClements said: “Crime is low in Lancashire and there are steps that people can take to help us keep it that way. The National Identity Fraud Protection Week is an admirable campaign that we support in order to alert our community to this growing problem.

"If by doing so we can prevent members of the public and local businesses from falling victim to this type of fraud then it will be worthwhile.”

• For more advice visit www.actionfraud.org.uk or call 0300 123 2040.

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