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Identity theft: How to stay safe and protect yourself

Scammers are cashing in on Covid-19 fears, Brexit and end of the tax year with calls, emails and texts trying to steal our cash. This week's Big Issue Financial Health guide has all you need to know about spotting ID theft – and what to do if you fall victim
Image credit: Experian/Getty

Pandemic scammers are increasingly bombarding people in the UK with email, automated calls and texts to cash in on Covid-19 stress, worry and isolation. Identity theft is on the rise and Action Fraud, run by the City of London Police working alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, had over 1000 reports of Covid jab emails in just 24 hours in January, while Brexit compensation offers and fake HMRC tax and national insurance messages are also on the rise.

We launched our Big Issue Financial Health campaign to provide advice on issues like this.

We were asked what to do about identity theft and scammers – Elizabeth, 60, from Lancaster, said she’s been harrassed by scams on email, text and phone. But how can she report it?

John Webb at Experian explains:

“I understand your worry Elizabeth, and agree it’s important to know how to report a scam.

“Fraudsters like to keep us on our toes, so it’s important to be aware of any attempt to steal your information (or money) and report it. This could mean that someone more vulnerable is protected from falling victim to the same scam. Becoming a victim is also distressing, so knowing where to get the right help is important.

“If you are targeted by a scam, whether or not your fall victim, it’s always a good idea to report it to Action Fraud. Companies generally like to know if fraudsters are attempting trickery in their name, so most will be happy if you let them know too. Lots of email providers also have buttons to report emails as ‘scams’ or ‘phishing’.

“If you’ve been a victim of scam and have lost money, for example paying for fake or non-existent goods, then contact your bank or card provider immediately. They’ll investigate and also make sure cards or transactions are stopped. They’ll also be able to make sure money taken fraudulently can be refunded.

“You should also do this immediately if you find any unrecognised transactions on your bank account too – it’s always a good idea to keep any eye on your bank statements.

“Fraudsters don’t just try and scam you out of money, they’ll often try to steal your personal information for their own financial gain. This means getting hold of enough information to try and open credit agreements, or order goods, in your name. We call this identity theft and ID fraud.

“One of the most common techniques fraudsters use is ‘phishing’ where you could receive a phone call, email or text message asking you to confirm or provide your personal or financial details. More often than not, these messages direct you to lookalike but fake sites or even have attachments that they want you to download. It’s important to avoid these as they’re likely to contain malicious software.

“If you suspect ID fraud or have evidence you are a victim, checking your credit report with the three main credit reference agencies is a good idea. This is free and will show you any information recorded in your name, including fraudulent entries. The agencies, like Experian, will then be able to dispute all the relevant entries on your behalf by contacting the lenders involved directly. If you report ID fraud to one of the agencies, they’ll notify the others so they can support you.

“Once the lenders have investigated and confirmed the identity fraud, they’ll remove all the details and make sure your credit report is back to its rightful state. You can also add a statement and password to your credit report, which could help protect you in future.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen lots of new scams pop up too. For example, text messages or emails with links to register for Covid tests, or to getting financial support from the authorities. There have also been several scams attempting to get people to pay for free services, like a vaccination. It’s always good to be cautious and, if in doubt, find the contact details online and get in touch to check it’s genuine.

“My final advice is to make life as difficult as possible for these scammers by staying aware and protecting your details. That way, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of becoming a target yourself.”

John’s top six tips for staying safe:

  • Have strong, unique, passwords for each account
  • Never click links in emails or text messages
  • Don’t give out personal details if someone calls you
  • Don’t download email attachments
  • Shred or destroy your mail or personal details
  • Check your credit reports from time to time

What to do if you spot a scam or think you  have been caught out:

Report any scam to:

  • Action Fraud (0300 123 2040)
  • Local police (non-emergency contact)

Check your financial details:

  • Experian
  • Equifax
  • TransUnion

Have you got a question for our Financial Health campaign experts? Email: marking your email ‘Financial Health’, Tweet us at @BigIssue using #FinancialHealth or leave a message on our Facebook page.