Preventing Identity Theft

Identity theft is a method used to carry out criminal activity, involving unauthorised use of your name and personal details to either steal from you, or commit a crime in your name. Identity theft can be carried out either online, physically using printed documents, or by a combination of the two.

The risks

  • Being tricked into divulging personal data in response to an email, text, letter or phone call.
  • Theft of or access to paper documents (for example, bank statements, utility bills, tax returns, passport/driving licence).
  • Sharing private information with family, friends or people who take you into their confidence.
  • ‘Shoulder surfing’ – people looking over your shoulder at your computer or smartphone/tablet, or at the ATM.

The symptoms

  • Not receiving bills or other correspondence – suggesting that a criminal has given a different address in place of your own.
  • Receiving credit cards which you did not apply for.
  • Denial of credit for no apparent reason.
  • Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about things you have not bought.
  • Unrecognisable entries on your credit history.
  • You have recently lost or had stolen important documents such as your passport or driving licence.
  • When buying or selling, you get complaints about non-delivery of or non-payment for goods you are not aware of.
  • You see entries on your bank, credit or store card statement for goods you did not order.
  • You cannot log into a site using your normal password (because a criminal has logged in as you and changed it).


  • Do not share account information with friends, family or other people.
  • Ensure you always have effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software running.
  • If possible, arrange for paperless bills and statements.
  • File sensitive documents securely, and shred those you no longer need – preferably with a cross-cut shredder.
  • Never divulge private information data in response to an email, text, letter or phone call unless you are certain that the request is from a bona fide source.
  • Always beware of people looking over your shoulder when you are entering private information on a computer, smartphone/tablet or ATM.

What to do if your identity has been stolen

  • Act promptly in order to minimise the impact of the theft.
  • Contact any affected websites and advise them about the problem.
  • If you can, log in and change your password immediately using a strong password.
  • If you are unable to log in, contact the website’s technical support department immediately for further advice.
  • Ask your bank, building society or credit card company for advice (for example, on freezing accounts and getting new cards, passwords and PINs). Most will refund the full amount lost providing you were not negligent in some way.
  • Change your password on other websites in case they have also been compromised.
  • If website access requires a secret question, change it if you can to avoid repeat incidents.
  • Check your other personal information, such as addresses, to make sure it is still correct.
  • Check for other transactions, items for sale or items purchased in your name which you have not originated, and cancel them.
  • Report all lost or stolen documents (passports, driving licences, credit cards, chequebooks, etc) as soon as possible to the relevant issuing authorities.
  • Do not continue to use a compromised PIN.
  • Check with credit reference agencies for any unusual entries, and for advice. For example, Experian offers an inexpensive monitoring service of which details can be found at  and Clearscore shows you for Equifax credit report free of charge, here:
  • Notify Royal Mail if you suspect mail theft or that a mail redirection has been fraudulently set up on your address.
  • Consider registering with the CIFAS Protective Registration Service.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud: Report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.

Action Fraud LogoIf you’ve experienced cybercrime, you can contact the charity Victim Support for free and confidential support and information.



See Also...

In partnership with

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


Automated Teller Machine: a cash machine, often referred to as a ‘hole the wall’.


Personal Identification Number.