Of course no-one can be completely fraud-proof when fraudsters are constantly inventing new and more devious ways to get at our personal data. However, there are steps you can take that will significantly improve your protection right away.
By defending your personal and financial details against fraud you can ensure that no unsightly blotches will show up on your credit report, and as a result continue being able to secure credit when you need it.
1. Protect yourself in cyber space
Think for a minute about how many times a day you type a password into your computer, or enter personal details online such as your address, or enter your bank code to access online banking. Every time you do this you could be giving away this information to fraudsters if you don't take the necessary precautions.
It's essential to install an up-to-date form of anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer and make sure your computer is bolstered with a suitable firewall. You should also make sure you have all the latest security updates installed to your computer as and when you are alerted of them.
It's vital never to use your card to make a payment over the internet without first checking that you are using a secure server. Look at the bottom right corner of your screen and you should see a small padlock icon when you are making a payment; also the address in your browser should begin 'https'. If either of these things are absent, take your business elsewhere.
2. Dispose with care
Many of us will be familiar with the idea by now that disposing of bank statements, receipts, and other paperwork that displays our personal details isn't a clever thing to do, as fraudsters have been known to go through rubbish in the name of copying and abusing your identity.
However, simply tearing a bank statement in two isn't going to put them off the scent; it's best to use a cross-shredder to really make sure your paperwork is well and truly destroyed before you dispose of it.
3. Keep sensitive data safe
Sensitive data might mean your name, address, date of birth, phone number, national insurance number, or bank details, among other things. It's crucial you take good care of these details because if a fraudster gets hold of any of them they can potentially steal your identity.
Be careful who you supply with your personal details - make sure you know exactly who they are and what they will do with the information.
Never leave your credit or debit cards in a place where fraudsters could easily copy down the details, such as on the counter in a store.
When you are entering your PIN at a cash machine or checkout, remember to shield it from prying eyes - and don't use a cash machine if it looks like it may have been tampered with.
If you move house, make sure to change your address officially with your bank, and consider setting up a redirection with the Royal Mail for a couple of months so that you know your post won't fall into the wrong hands after you've left.
It is also important to be careful with your mobile phone, as most smartphones hold a great deal of personal information. This video explains how your credit report could be affected if somebody accesses the data on your phone.
4. Keep one ear to the ground
Unless you check your bank statements and credit report regularly, you'll have no way of knowing when things go awry. Make it a rule to check your bank statement every month as soon as it lands on your doormat, and comb through it for any transactions you don't recognise.
If you notice anything untoward you should take action by contacting the necessary people right away.
Likewise if you ever lose your credit card, debit card, driving license or passport you should make sure to inform the issuer immediately. A credit or debit card provider will be able to cancel your card so that it can't be used in your name and issue you a new one.
Finally, you should check your credit report online regularly to keep on top of it and make sure your identity isn't being tampered with.
Taking a quick look at your credit report will enable you to identify any accounts open in your name that don't belong to you or transactions you haven't authorised. You can do this for free by signing up for a free trial with one of the credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax or Callcredit. Check your report every six months or so to make sure everything is as it should be.
Alternatively, Experian's Protect My ID service will monitor your credit report on your behalf and help to identify and resolve any issues that arise.