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Don't be an I.D.iot; BEAT THE FRAUDSTERS BY SAFEGUARDING YOUR IDENTITY.

Byline: NICK WEBSTER

TV mimic Alistair McGowan was left red-faced after the Daily Mirror caught him doing exactly what his advert about identity theft says not to do.

Luckily for the impressionist, it was the Mirror that found a hoard of personal documents - including a valid credit card - in the rubbish outside his home.

But an increasing number of people aren't so lucky, falling foul of the fraudsters whose identity theft scams are costing the country pounds 1.3billion a year.

"It's a lot easier than you'd think to get hold of someone's identity," says expert Peter Warren, author of Cyber Alert. "To prove this, I once obtained an emergency national insurance number, then went to Camden council in London and got hold of an emergency social security number.

"With that, I got a post office account, a building society account and could have used them to get a passport.

"Providing that small bit of information is a start - that's why everybody should be wary about letting go of any bit of identity info. Be aware of what your documents contain."

His best piece of advice is always be extremely careful with whom you share personal information.

Here, Peter details 10 ways to foil the ID theft criminals...

SHRED OR BURN

LETTERS, bank statements, utility bills, driving licences, mortgage applications, mobile phone contracts, credit and debit card receipts - even part-filled out forms - show personal details.

They can be used to access bank accounts, run up bills, launder money, commit benefit fraud or take out loans in your name.

And never leave credit card receipts laying around in bars and restaurants.

"Anything that has any personal details on it shouldn't just be thrown in the bin," warns expert Peter Warren "If they're out of date or no longer needed - shred or burn them.

"Any details about you can be used to reverse-engineer your identity quite easily."

People are beginning to listen - sales of mini-shredders have trebled as home-owners fight back against fraudsters.

REPORT SUSPICIONS

IF you believe your rubbish is being targeted, tell the police and Neighbourhood Watch.

If you suspect fraud, report it to your bank, building society or credit card company straight away, too.

CHECK STATEMENTS

KEEP a close eye on your financial affairs.

Get into the habit of regularly checking bank and credit card statements against receipts.

Fraudsters often test the water with a small transaction, so if anything looks suspicious contact your bank or credit card company.

Pay attention to your billing cycle. If credit card or utility bills fail to arrive, contact the firms to ensure that they have not been illicitly redirected.

BEWARE PHONE SCAMS

A POPULAR scam is for ID thieves to impersonate bank staff on the phone and persuade victims to divulge info, simply by requesting them to confirm security details.

So never give out personal information unless you're 100 per cent sure the caller is genuine.

Instead, always ring the firm back on a number you've used in the past.

"People are enormously foolish about giving out info," says Peter.

"If someone asks for your details, always ask who they are and if they can provide proof of it. And always ask for a return phone number."

Crooks also go "phishing". Instead of using the phone, they send out emails asking for the same info.

Don't fall for it.

BEAT THE HACKERS

FRAUDSTERS can invade your office and home through your computer.

Hackers send out emails containing a virus which will be used to access sensitive information in the computer's memory.

Or a sophisticated program called a trojan can be hidden in, for example, an advert on a legitimate website.

It transfers to your home computer, lying in wait and looking out for all online banking transactions and sales.

After recording bank and credit card details, it sends them back to the criminals. To thwart such schemes, install fire walls, anti-virus software and free anti-spyware programs such as Spybot.

PINs AND PASSWORDS

NOW that chip and pin credit and debit cards have become the norm, it's vital to protect your personal identification number.

Be vigilant and key it in carefully when using cash machines, direct purchase terminals or phones. Don't keep it written down near the card or recorded on your mobile.

The same goes with passwords for your computer.

"Most people use variations of about 10 passwords, such as the name of their business or mother's maiden name," says Peter.

"And one of the most common is 'sex'. Something easy to remember is also easy for a fraudster to guess."

Choose difficult passwords instead and change them often.

DEAD VICTIMS

IMPERSONATING the dead has been one of the most common methods of ID theft, although luckily it's on the wane.

To stop it, don't include an age, date of birth or address in funeral announcements, notify government departments such as Department For Work And Pensions of the death and return documents such as pension books by registered post.

Relatives should also have the deceased's mail redirected to their own address and not allow it to be sent to an empty property.

Fraudsters have been known to pose as house buyers just to steal mail. For the same reason, make sure post is redirected when moving house.

CREDIT CHECKS

IF you fear you've fallen foul of the fraudsters, it's possible to check your credit standing with a credit reference agency.

It's well worth doing, as it costs just a few pounds and a ruined rating can take years to repair.

Try a firm such as Experian on 0870 241 6212 or at www. experian.co.uk

STOP JUNK MAIL

THIEVES can intercept unsolicited mail, such as letters asking you to apply for credit cards and loans - often with semi-completed details.

This can be prevented by signing up with the free Mail Preference Service, which stops direct mail going to your address.

The MPS can be contacted by post at Freepost 29 LON20771, London, W1E 0ZT, by phone on 0845 703 4599 or online at www.mps online.org.uk

AFTER THE FACT

IF you've already been a victim of ID theft, think about subscribing to the fraud prevention service CIFAS' protective registration service for pounds 11.75.

They place a notice on the credit file indicating documents have been stolen and there is a risk from fraudsters.

Banks and other firms will then carry out extra identity checks from anyone applying for credit in your name.

CIFAS can be contacted on: 0870 010 2091 or at www.cifas.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

RISK: Yesterday's front page; SAFETY: Shred 'em; BE WARY: Vet callers; GUARD IT: Chip & pin; FILTER IT: Stop your junk mail; VALUABLE: Alistair McGowan's discarded credit card
COPYRIGHT 2005 MGN LTD
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2005
Words:1117
Previous Article:Voice Of The Daily Mirror: Beating IRA.
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