Identity fraud is one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK and costs an estimated £1.3bn a year, newly released research has revealed.
A report from consumer watchdog Which? said that the problem is "a cause of concern to two thirds of all UK adults". As part of the research a Which? researcher 'stole' the identity of the magazine's editor, Malcolm Coles, with relative ease.
The researcher obtained his birth certificate, mother's maiden name, place of birth, mortgage value, a plan of where his flat is on his street, medical data, details of his shopping habits and even how often he visited the gym.
"I couldn't believe how easy it was for someone else to assume my identity," said Coles. "Sitting on my desk was a folder with my birth certificate, a print-out of how often I went to the gym and my mortgage details. If this is what an amateur can do, imagine how easy it is for an experienced criminal."
The study warned that ID thieves gain access to bank accounts to steal money, run up bills, launder money or carry out benefit fraud.
Internet scams leading to ID theft included spam emails containing viruses that access information on computers, and emails that look like bank correspondence asking people to 'confirm' their security details, known as phishing.
However, Which? noted that ID theft is not confined to the internet. Thieves make bogus phone calls from 'banks' requesting security details to check suspected fraud, read credit card strips to clone cards or shop online, and even raid bins for sensitive documents.
Respondents to a Which? poll indicated that they do not believe that ID cards are the answer to the problem.
While the government claims that around 80 per cent of the public is in favour, Which? found 70 per cent of people in favour of a compulsory scheme. This support dropped to just 31 per cent when they were told about the £35 fee, with 54 per cent opposed.
In order to keep one step ahead of identity thieves Which? offers the following advice.
- Do not use your mother's maiden name or place of birth as a security password
- Check your credit file annually for suspect applications
- If you move, ensure that you pass on details about your change of address
- Shred or rip up post before throwing it in the bin
- Never use the same password for more than one account
- Do not carry details of your home address along with bank cards
"Even a simple step taken by industry to stop accepting mother's maiden name and place of birth as default passwords would be a good start, as it's too easy for fraudsters to get hold of this basic information, which is where the process of stealing an identity begins," said Coles.
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