Keeping your identity safe

Keeping your identity safe

Just graduated? It can be very tempting to post a big photo of your graduation certificate on all your social media channels but as fraud prevention experts Cifas point out, there are good reasons not to do so. Having an unaltered image of a graduation certificate makes it comparatively easy for fraudulent designers to recreate certificates that are reportedly often good enough to fool employers. No-one wants to be turned away from their dream job only to discover they were pipped to the post by someone with a fraudulently ripped off copy of their own degree certificate, and yet Cifas reports that such things happen all the time!

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Knowledge is power, and knowing immediately when someone has attempted to target you for identity fraud makes it much easier to prevent . With enough personal information about you, it is possible for someone else to pretend to be you – to open bank accounts, take out loans, mortgages, and extend themselves other forms of credit at your expense, and to leave you to foot the bill. I don’t want to panic you but most people who become victims of such schemes are blissfully unaware that they have become victims of fraud for a long period of time, until such time that the identity thieves have become emboldened. Worse, the more time that passes, the harder it is for these people to recover the money spent in their name. Most fraudulently embezzled money is never recovered.

It’s not just you that fraudsters have in their sights

Based on international estimates, public bodies generally lose 0.5-5% of their spending to fraud and related loss, most of which goes undetected. The problem is so severe in the commercial sector that Thompson Reuters have released a free guide through LexisNexis for worried business owners advising them how they can use Lexis to ensure a potential new customer is not just attempting to defraud them (Lexis, n.d.).

Prevention is better than cure

The best defence is never to let anyone know anything about you. Your full name, date of birth, postal address, passwords for your email account, bank details, certificates and qualification details, details about yourself and your life history, where you have lived and when… all things social media platforms have variously invited or even demanded that you share in the past, and which people still share online with naive abandon are the very things that credit companies ask to verify your identity. If you inadvertently share all this information them with others, you enable them to impersonate you. This might sound obvious but we recently came across a print out of visa application listing everywhere someone had lived and when as well as all manner of other identifying information about them. When it had not been collected by the next day, we shredded it to protect their identity. It is a worrying sign that people are blissfully ignorant of how vulnerable they are to their vulnerabilities. In the modern world, information about you is invaluable.

Store all your records securely and shred anything with your personal details using a confetti shredder so it can never be reassembled, keep your computer and phone antivirus up to date, watch for phishing attempts and keep anything with your details at home under lock and key. With secure phone payments, the need to carry cards at all has diminished, so you can just carry the bare minimum of information in your wallet or handbag, so if it is lost or stolen the thief gets the absolute minimum of information about you and it is easier to cancel the one credit card you might have been carrying.

That said, it is difficult to know whether something might have slipped out into the ether in today’s mad world and so the best defence is to protect your identity on one hand and maintain vigilence against the “underestimated and unchecked” threat of fraud remains vigilance according to credit profile advisor Experian. Receiving regular credit reports to check that no credit cards, mortgages, loans or other credit applications have been opened in your name but not by you, checking your bank and credit card statements for purchases you don’t remember making, and noticing if financial statements or other postal mail stop arriving or you receive account information about accounts you never set up enables you to act immediately and maximises the chances that you can recover as much of the money stolen from you as possible. Acting swiftly will also help deter fraudsters, who dislike investing time in setting up a line of fraudulent credit only for it to be summarily shut down thanks to their target’s vigilence.

The final word

One source of information that insurance companies have already made a pass at before privacy rights groups forced them into retreat is your genetic information. There is nothing more personal than your genetic information and yet people have been willing to pay for the right to give it away in exchange for insights into their family history, cheaper insurance and anything else going. In light of everything else discussed here today, might I suggest this is likely a mistake.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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