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A Brand New You: Identity Theft and the Growing Need to Protect Yourself

Sep 5, 2008
In the wake of taxpayers discovering that their money may be at risk following the government's 24bn rescue of Northern Rock, people up and down the country were shocked and worried to learn about the apparent loss of sensitive data on over 25 million people after two computer discs containing records of all British families with children under sixteen - that's over seven million families - had been lost in the post!

These records included details such as parents' and children's names, dates of birth, addresses, National Insurance numbers and, in some cases, even banks and building society account details - just about everything a potential fraudster would need to steal from innocent people.

However, it didn't stop there. The Ministry of Defence then admitted losing sensitive material concerning people who had applied for jobs in the Royal Navy. The MoD revealed that they were investigating the loss of 69 laptops and seven PCs, including a laptop stolen from a Naval Officer's car, which was thought to contain unencrypted files on over 600,000 people - including Navy recruits. The laptop also included the National Insurance and NHS numbers of some 153,000 Naval applicants, and the bank details of a further 3,700.

It is little wonder then, that people were anxious about these breaches in National Security, especially when a recent survey revealed that one in four Britons has been the victim of Identity Fraud, and that the overall cases of Identity Theft are on the increase: over 185,000 cases were identified by Cifas, the UK's fraud prevention service, in 2007: a rise of 8% on the previous year.

The rise in identity theft over recent years can partly be attributed to the increase in internet spending - where the lax security of certain online stores has led to individuals' bank details to be hacked and stolen by online fraudsters, for their own nefarious use, which can range from anything to buying illicit DVDs to funding international terrorism!

As with most mistakes, though, it isn't just the government and the big corporations that make errors - each year 430m is stolen through the theft or loss of credit cards, and that's something that can happen to anybody at any time, and not just online.

There are, however, certain ways you can help yourself stay protected in an age when identity theft is becoming a favourite of criminals and fraudsters. When using the Internet, even if not shopping, it is important to protect your computer from malware (malicious software) - which can be used to steal information from your PC - by installing and maintaining anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Also, consider adding an extra security layer with software which can detect phishing websites - a favourite weapon of internet fraudsters designed to lure unsuspecting internet users to part with their credit card details.

Additionally, register your credit card for additional verification checks, such as the 'Verified By Visa' service which prompts the user to answer a series of questions designed to authenticate the user before any transactions are processed.

If you plan to travel somewhere where it is easier to lose your wallet or credit card, consider credit card protection, which provides an easy way to cancel your cards should they go missing; all it takes is one phonecall and your credit and debit cards will be cancelled and replacements arranged with all your card issuers.
About the Author
This article has been written for information and interest purposes only. The information contained within this article is the opinion of the author only, and should not be construed as advice or used to make financial decisions. Expert financial advice should always be sought and any links contained within this article are included for information purposes only.
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