Identity theft

ID Theft is the act of fraudulently impersonating another person. The identity thief typically uses personal and/or financial information about a person to commit a fraud e.g. obtaining credit, gaining unauthorised access to financial information, buying goods on-line etc.

How do you recognise it?

Unfortunately, by the time you recognise it, you are likely to be a victim already. Some examples include:

• Refusal of Credit / Loan Applications
• Collection agencies contact you for overdue debts that you never incurred
• You may receive information in the post about an apartment you never rented, a job you never had or a house you never bought etc.

How does it work?

Identity theft starts with the mis-use of your personally identifying information such as your name, credit card number, bank account details, PPSN number etc.

An identity thief can use a number of methods to obtain personal information about you. The most common method on-line is by way of a “Phishing Attack”, this is where you receive, usually by email, a request for your personal information from a person / organisation you would normally trust (or that seems trustworthy).

The information you hand over is then used to “steal” your identity and used to obtain credit, apply for loans, rent apartments and so on.

Other common methods for obtaining your personal information include:

• Dumpster Diving: the fraudster goes through your rubbish to obtain personal information about you and to steal copies of utility bills, financial statements etc. that can be later used to impersonate you.

• Intercepting your Post: If you think your mail is being interfered with, contact the Post Office straight away and ask them to investigate. If your post is delivered to a central point, such as the hall of a block of apartments, make sure that you always collect it promptly, and always lock your postbox.

• Browsing social network sites for any personal information you may have submitted.

• Skimming: They use special equipment to steal credit card / debit card details when the card is being processed either at the ATM or in a store.

Using old computers you throw away: When you throw away an old computer or mobile phone an amount of personal information may still be stored on that device including name, account numbers, passwords etc – this can all be used to aid the fraudster when attempting to impersonate you.

What risk does it pose?

The reputation of the victim can be severely damaged, particularly with regard to their credit rating. Some victims have had criminal records associated with their identities for crimes they did not commit. Severe debts may be accrued on your accounts for debts you have not incurred.

Credit card fraud:
They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report. They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realise there’s a problem.

Phone or utilities fraud:
They may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.
They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.

Bank/finance fraud:
They may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals in your name, draining your accounts.
They may take out a loan in your name.

Government documents fraud:
They may get a driver’s license or other official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.
They may use your name and PPS number to get government benefits.

Other fraud:
They may get a job using your PPS number.
They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

What to do?

• Immediately report the identity theft to the An Garda Siochana
• Advise in writing your bank and other financial institutions you have accounts / dealings with.
• Notify in writing the relevant organisation / website where the identity theft likely occurred.
• Close any account that you know, or believe, has been tampered with.

How can I avoid ID theft from happening ?

• Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms of identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.

• Never respond to any unsolicited email or phone calls requiring personal information. No reputable company will ever ask for this kind of information.

• Ensure that any website requiring confidential information is using a secure connection. Always look for https and a pad-lock in the browser window and pay attention to error messages that the browser gives when it says a site cannot be trusted.

• Never send personal or confidential information in an email.

Top Tips

• Be suspicious of any emails / websites offering something too good to be true; it probably is.

• Be wary of websites you hand over your credit card details to. Try to ensure that you get a reference about a website before you trust them. Use only reputable and known brands.

• Treat all rubbish and post with extreme care. Do not discard any correspondance with personal information without shredding it first.

• Invest in a shredder, shred confidential documents such as credit card statements and utility bills before binning them.

• Monitor your bank account / credit card statements regularly and report any suspicious activity immediately.

• Always ensure that any information is securely erased from old computers/phones/PDA before giving them away / disposing of them.

• Always take your credit card receipts, and never throw them away in public.

• Don’t put personal information on the Internet or on a Social Networking or website profile. If you find your personal information posted somewhere on the Internet, demand that it be removed.