Identity theft itself — getting hold of someone’s personal information — isn’t a crime. It becomes a crime when someone uses the information they’ve taken to get something they’re not entitled to, like a credit card, passport or driver license.
When someone’s able to find enough personal information about you online, they can use it to pretend to be you. Even basic information like your name, date of birth, and address can be enough for someone to impersonate you.
In most cases, identity theft is committed for financial gain. But, it can also be to get legal documents, like a driver license or even a passport. Common reasons for identity theft include:
- opening bank accounts
- getting a credit card
- getting loans or benefits
- taking over your social media accounts, like your Facebook or Instagram account
- ordering goods and services
- getting a mobile phone contract
- getting a government issued document, like a passport or driver license.
If someone steals your identity, you may not realize it’s happened until:
- you see that someone else has logged into, and is using, your social media accounts
- you get bills or invoices for things you didn’t order
- you see charges on your bank statements or credit card for things you didn’t buy
- you get turned down for a loan because your credit rating shows that you haven’t been paying your bills
- a debt collector contacts you.
Preventing Online Identity Theft
There are things you can do to reduce the chances of having your identity stolen online.
- Don’t give out too much personal information, whether on social media or by email.
- Put privacy settings on your social media accounts and don’t add too many personal details to your profile.
- Turn on multifactor authentication for your online accounts.
- Always update your operating system and your apps when new versions are available. You can set this up to happen automatically with Windows and a lot of other applications like Office.
- Choose unique passwords for your online accounts — don’t use the same password for every account you have. Consider using a password manager like KeePass to manage them.
- Make sure that answers to your account recovery questions aren’t easy to guess. Your answers don’t need to be factual, just something that you can remember.
- Make sure your home wireless network is secure.
- Be cautious when connecting your computer to unsecure networks like free WiFi or internet cafés.
- Always check your bank statements.
- Get a regular credit report to check that no accounts have been opened in your name without your knowledge.
If you think your identity has been stolen
Here’s what to do if you’re affected by online identity theft.
- If your social media accounts have been taken over by someone else, contact the relevant support desk for advice on getting them back. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have a support team available to help with this kind of issue.
- Report any documents — like passports or driver licence — that you think someone else has used without your knowledge.
- If you have an issue with your credit card or any of your bank accounts, call your bank immediately.
- Check your bank statements for any transactions that you didn’t make. Cancel any purchases you didn’t authorise.
- If you gave out some personal or financial details:
- contact the service provider for your online accounts — like your bank or your email provider. Let them know what’s happened and ask what they can do to help.
- change the passwords for any online accounts you think might be at risk.