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Identity fraud takes place when criminals get hold of enough sensitive data to impersonate you, clear your accounts, borrow money and run up debts in your name - and it's a booming business, with a 32% increase in the number of identity fraud cases in 2009, according to CIFAS, the fraud prevention service.
Some surveys indicate that as many as six million Britons have been victims, although the government estimates that the crime affects closer to 120,000 people each year. Either way it's one of the fastest-growing crimes of the 21st century.
Here are our top ten tips to keep the ID fraudsters at bay:
1. Shred sensitive information
Shred financial statements, offers of loans and credit cards, catalogue account details or anything else that could be used to impersonate you before binning them. Identity thieves go through rubbish to see if there is anything useful - a practice known as bin raiding.
2. Check your statements carefully
Go through your credit card and bank statements every month. Unexpected entries can be the first indication that somebody is stealing your money.
3. Learn to love your credit report
Your credit report is such an effective tool in the fight against identity fraud that the government recommends regular checks to protect your identity. It gives you a snapshot of your borrowings and repayment record, so you can easily spot unfamiliar accounts and suspicious balances. With CreditExpert membership you get unlimited access to your Experian credit report, which shows all credit activity in your name so you can spot any potentially fraudulent activity.
4. Limit your social networking
Protecting your identity online is one of the most important things you can do. It's tempting to include basic information such as your full name and date of birth in your online profiles, and then add interesting details such as your pets' or children's names and nicknames. Don't - these are the kind of details that you probably use for passwords and PINs, so leave them out. One of your cyber-friends could be a fraudster looking for enough data to steal your identity.
5. Don't risk important documents
Don't carry your passport, driving licence or even credit cards unless you know you'll need them. Never write down your PINs or passwords. If your bag or wallet is stolen, you could be handing the thieves your identity as well as your cash.
6. Report thefts
Always tell the police, your bank, credit card issuers and anybody else who might be affected if you suffer a theft. That way, your loss is on the record and organisations that might be approached by the thieves will be forewarned.
7. Keep an eye on your post
Should any mail go missing, tell the Post Office immediately - someone may be intercepting it, especially if you live in a building with a communal hall where mail is delivered. Be especially careful when you move house and use the Royal Mail's Redirection Service to forward your post to your new address for at least a year.
8. Register to vote at your current address
Lenders use the electoral roll to check that you live where you say you do. If you're not registered, a criminal could register you at another address. When you move home, always deregister at your old address and re-register at the new one. That way, the people who move into your previous home can't offer apparent proof that they are you.
9. Don't respond to cold calls or to unsolicited e-mails
Never reply to e-mails or to cold-callers asking for details such as PINs, passwords or account numbers - and don't fill in your details on any unfamiliar e-mail or website. Telephone the organisation that is allegedly behind the approach, using the number in the phone book or in previous correspondence - and warn them what is happening.
10. Keep on checking your credit report
You need to check your credit report regularly, because identity thieves could target you at any time. CreditExpert sends out alerts by e-mail or text to warn you if there has been any significant change to your credit report, so you can log on immediately and see whether you are being impersonated. Always log on and check these alerts - they can indicate signs of potential identity fraud.
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