What exactly is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to take over your credit accounts, open new ones, take out a loan, rent a flat, access bank accounts, or commit many other crimes in your name and at your expense.
When it strikes, the effects can be devastating. What's more, because it frequently involves no physical theft, identity theft may not be noticed by its victims until significant damage has been done -- often, several months and thousands of pounds later.
How do Thieves do it?
First, they steal your personal information by...
- Going through your post or rubbish, looking for bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information.
- Stealing personal information from your wallet or purse such as identification, credit or bank cards.
- Completing change-of-address forms to redirect your mail.
- Obtaining your credit report by posing as someone who has a lawful right to the information.
- Acquiring personal information you share on unsecured sites on the Internet.
- Buying personal information about you from an inside source -- for example, a shop assistant that gets your information from a credit application or by "skimming" your credit card information when you make a purchase.
- Getting your personnel records at work.
Then they use your personal information by...
- Opening new credit card accounts using your name. When they use the credit cards and don't pay the bills, the debt and its delinquency is reflected on your credit file.
- Establishing a phone or mobile phone service in your name.
- Opening a bank account in your name and writing fraudulent cheques on the account.
- Counterfeiting cheques or debit cards, and draining your bank account.
- Buying cars by taking out car loans in your name.
- Calling your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, changing the address on the account. Statements get sent to the new address, so you don't realise there's a problem until you check your credit report.
- Filing for bankruptcy using your name to avoid paying debts they've incurred under your name.
No Credit Card is Necessary
Credit card fraud is just one type of identity theft, but some types of identity theft don't involve credit cards at all. Someone with a poor credit history may use your personal information to get a car loan, acquire phone or mobile phone service, or another utility service, or open a bank account in your name.
Such cases can be seriously damaging, since you may not realise anything is wrong until you notice unfamiliar charges on your monthly bills or statements.
Monitor Your Credit Report Closely
Unless you check your credit report frequently, there's often no way to tell if identity thieves have used your personal information to open credit accounts or other services in your name.
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