Identity fraud reaches record levels

• New Cifas data reveals 173,000 cases recorded in 2016
• Highest number ever recorded by Cifas members
• Nine out of 10 fraudulent applications for bank accounts and other financial products made online

Cifas, the UK’s leading fraud prevention service, has released new figures showing that identity fraud has hit the highest levels ever recorded. A record 172,919 identity frauds were recorded in 2016 more than in any other previous year. Identity fraud now represents over half of all fraud recorded by the UK’s not-for-profit fraud data sharing organisation (53.3% of all frauds recorded to Cifas), of which 88% was perpetrated online.

The vast majority of identity fraud happens when a fraudster pretends to be an innocent individual to buy a product or take out a loan in their name. Often victims do not even realise that they have been targeted until a bill arrives for something they did not buy or they experience problems with their credit rating.

To carry out this kind of fraud successfully, fraudsters need access to their victim’s personal information such as name, date of birth, address, their bank and who they hold accounts with. Fraudsters get hold of this in a variety of ways, from stealing mail through to hacking; obtaining data on the ‘dark web’; exploiting personal information on social media, or though ‘social engineering’ where innocent parties are persuaded to give up personal information to someone pretending to be from their bank, the police or a trusted retailer.

Cifas has seen growing numbers of young people falling victim in recent years and this upward trend continued in 2016 with almost 25,000 victims under 30. In particular we saw a 34% increase in under 21s, and therefore Cifas is again calling for better education around fraud and financial crime and urging young people to be vigilant about protecting their personal data.

2016 also saw increases in victims aged over 40, with 1,869 more victims recorded by Cifas members.

Mike Haley, Deputy Chief Executive, Cifas said: “These new figures show that identity fraud continues to be the number one fraud threat. With nine out of ten identity frauds committed online and with all age groups at risk, we are urging everyone to make it more difficult for fraudsters to abuse their identity. There are three simple steps that anyone can take to protect themselves: use strong passwords, download software updates when prompted on your devices; and avoid using public wi-fi for banking and online shopping.

“We all remember to protect our possessions through locking our house or flat or car but we don’t take the same care to protect our most important asset – our identities. We all need to take responsibility to secure our mail boxes, shred our important documents like bank statements and utility bills, and take sensible precautions online – otherwise we are making ourselves a target for the identity fraudster.”

What can consumers do to protect themselves?
• Set your privacy settings across all the social media channels you use. And just think twice before you share details – in particular your full date of birth, your address, contacts details – all this information can be useful to fraudsters!
• Password protect your devices. Keep your passwords complex by picking three random words, such as roverducklemon and add or split them with symbols, numbers and capitals:R0v3rDuckLemon!.
• Install anti-virus software on your laptop and any other personal devices and then keep it up to date. MoneySavingExpert have a recommended list of the best free anti-virus software: www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/free-anti-virus-software
• Take care on public wi-fi – fraudsters hack them or mimic them. If you’re using one, avoid accessing sensitive apps such as mobile banking.
• Download updates to your software when your device prompts you – they often add enhanced security features.
Think about your offline information too:
• Like post. Always redirect your mail when you leave home and try to make sure your mailbox is secure.

What to do if you’re a victim:
ACT FAST if you think you have been a victim of identity fraud
• If you receive any mail that seems suspicious or implies you have an account with the sender when you don’t, do not ignore it.

• Get a copy of your credit report as it is one of the first places you can spot if someone is misusing your personal information – before you suffer financial loss. Review every entry on your credit report and if you see an account or even a credit search from a company that you do not recognise, notify the credit reference agency.

• If you have information about those committing identity crime please tell independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

• If you have been a victim of fraud, you can contact Victim Support for free, confidential advice and support. Victim Support is the independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. Find out more at www.victimsupport.org.uk