Cases of identity theft continue to grow across the Western world. In the UK, 41% of fraud cases in 2014 were related to identity theft, according to Cifas.
Identity theft is everywhere – from pizza delivery ads to fake property owners
There are multiple ways your identity can get stolen – it can be as simple as a fake pizza delivery ad slipped under the door (order a pizza from them and give them your credit card details) or a much more sophisticated type of fraud, with a tenant moving into a house to later pretend to be the owner and sell it on the internet. Other fraudsters will want to rent a property to have an address they can use to apply for bank accounts and credit cards under another identity. In some cases, they will even use the identity of people who have passed away. Those fraudsters may be happy to pay a few months rent in advance at the onset of the tenancy, in order to gain the landlord’s or agent’s trust. However, they will soon be in arrears, on top of accumulating credit card debt they will never repay. The fraudsters will generally be familiar with tenant eviction regulations, knowing, for instance, that a possession order will only take effect if a tenant has been living in a property for at least 6 months.
This means that, for estate and letting agents, there is also a growing risk of ending up with fake documents from a rogue tenant or landlord. Passport copies or utility bills will often look genuine. In addition, there is the risk that real estate agents themselves, especially smaller businesses, are at risk of getting their client data hacked or stolen.
How can consumers and businesses protect themselves against identity theft?
- Deal with businesses you know, or look them up on the internet before sending them any payment or personal information
- Avoid credit card payments if you have any doubts about whether your counterpart is trustworthy.
- Limit the amount of personal information you give away on social media. When and where you go on holiday – and for how long – or when your birthday is are all data points fraudsters will love to get hold of.
- Shred financial documents before you throw them away.
- Never share passwords owith others and do not write them down.
- Use strong and unique passwords with upper and lower cases, punctuation marks and letters and numbers. Don’t use anything obvious (e.g. mother’s maiden name, date of birth).
- Do not use the same password or PIN for more than one account.
- Update your computer’s anti-virus programmes and make sure the firewall is sound.
- As a business, you should use trusted identity checking solutions beside obtaining multiple references from previous landlords or employers. We have previously discussed that credit checks alone can’t be trusted.