Identity theft is a vicious crime that can have a devastating effect upon it’s victims, leaving their finances and lives in tatters for years.

Some of those who fall prey to ID theft are unfortunate, tricked into giving their personal information up via social engineering, or robbed of the same by malware that has sneaked its way onto their computing devices.

But.

Sometimes the victims themselves need to look at their own behaviour as they may be putting themselves in harms way through their own actions.

A new survey by PrivacyGuard identified five different risky actions that consumers take online and concluded that many engaged in at least two of those.

The 1,000 people who took part in the survey were asked if they had ever:

  1. Bought something whilst connected to the internet over a public Wi-Fi connection
  2. Paid for goods or services online with any payment method other than a credit card (many credit card companies offer protection for online purchases)
  3. Made a purchase online from a web site they were not familiar with
  4. Used the same password for more than one online account
  5. Left their payment information stored on ten or more online sites (or not known exactly how many sites had that information saved)

In all, PrivacyGuard discovered that 66% of the respondents had engaged in at least two of the above behaviours. The majority of those consumers were guilty of re-using passwords across a multitude of web sites, making purchases from obscure sites and using potentially unsafe payment methods.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 6% of the one thousand people surveyed demonstrated a good security mindset by avoiding all such hazardous online behaviour.

Vin Torcasio, Director of Product for PrivacyGuard said,

“Online fraud and identity theft can never be completely prevented, but there are a number of simple steps that consumers can take to make it harder for thieves to operate. Our research indicates that a huge number of consumers could be doing more to be better protected.”

As we approach the last few shopping days before Christmas the opportunities for identity thieves are at their highest so here are some tips for protecting yourself over the festive season:

  • Never throw out any paperwork that contains your name, address or financial information without shredding it first
  • never respond to unsolicited emails and do not confirm your login or account information to anyone, even if they say they are your bank or credit card company (they should never ask you for this information anyway, be it via email or on the phone)
  • If you receive an unexpected call from your financial institution do not feel compelled to divulge any information at that time. Call the company back, using the phone number printed on your statements rather than any number the caller may have given you
  • If bank or credit card statements don’t arrive when expected tell the company as they may have been intercepted in the mail
  • Check your credit file with Equifax, Experian or Callcredit from time to time to ensure that no unexpected liabilities appear against your name or address

If you believe you have already become a victim of identity theft then the key is to act quickly in order to minimise the potential problems it could cause you. You should:

  • Contact your bank, credit card company, etc so that they can put a block on your account before the debts mount up
  • Inform the police who may be able to conduct an investigation and catch the perpetrator if enough evidence presents itself
  • Report any important documents as lost or stolen as soon as possible. Key documents to check are your driving licence, passport, cards and cheque books
  • Check your post – if you think your mail is being redirected elsewhere, or that items are going missing, contact the Royal Mail
  • Speak to the credit reference agencies as they can act on your behalf and contact lenders where fraudulent accounts have been opened.

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