It’s no secret that incidences of identity theft have been increasing, but what is shocking is the acceleration of this trend since the onset of the credit crunch.
This type of fraud is now one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK, with a 33% rise in cases during the first nine months of 2009. There were just under 60,000 victims of identity fraud – where your identity is stolen in order to obtain goods or services – during this period, while more than 16,000 people experienced account takeover – where fraudsters simply hijack and plunder existing accounts.
According to CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, a lot of fraudsters target victims at their current residence by intercepting or redirecting post. Other people fall victim because their post is intercepted at a previous address – with the crime typically carried out by the next occupants or criminal gangs who target empty properties.
Because many fraudsters use the postal system to carry out their crimes, renters, people with shared hallways or mailboxes and home movers are most at risk.
Better awareness of identity fraud – and the rise in people using the internet to manage their financial affairs – means the risks associated with intercepted post may seem to have decreased. However, the busy lives we lead mean it is often all too easy for someone to head off your personal post without you even realising it.
Follow these steps to minimise the risks:
1. Know your billing dates
Everyone should make an effort to know their billing dates. Most utility companies send bills at regular intervals and at regular times, but keep a list of all your providers and note when you receive a bill. If your bill does not arrive, then contact your supplier.
2. Moving house
If you move house, it’s a good idea to ensure all mail is redirected to your new address for at least six months, but ideally for a year.
Rather than leaving a forwarding address or asking the next occupant to dispose your post, consider using the Royal Mail redirection service – this will automatically send your mail to your new address either in the UK or overseas, from £7.65 for one month.
As you receive your redirected mail, make a note of each company and contact them to ensure all future correspondence is sent to your new address. You can find letter templates on the Royal Mail website.
Make sure your post can get through your letterbox and that it is secure. Royal Mail warns that letters that are retrievable from the outside of your letterbox will leave you open to mail theft.
4. Renters and shared hallways
If you live in a property with other people, or you share a hallway or letterbox with your neighbours, then be extra vigilant about checking and retrieving your mail. If you need a new cheque book or credit card, then ask your bank if you can pick this up from a local branch.
5. Away from home
If you are going to be away from home (on holiday, for example) then consider requesting Royal Mail to hold your mail for you until you get home. Its ‘Keepsafe’ service can be set up online or in any Post Office branch, and holds your mail for up to two months.
There is only one fee per household and costs from £8.95 for 17 days. However, remember to set it up at least five workings days before you leave.
6. What to do if fraudsters strike
If you suspect your mail is being stolen, contact the Royal Mail customer enquiry line (0845 774 0740) to check whether a mail redirection order has been made in your name without your knowledge.
To minimise the chances of someone intercepting an application form and taking out credit in your name, register for free with the Mail Preference Service, which will put a stop to most of the junk mail you receive.