Check if you have been scammed
There are several things that might give you a clue that someone has stolen your identity, stolen money from an account of yours, or is otherwise using your personal details for their own gain. Here are the essentials to look out for:
Online fraud is growing and the annual cost of identity theft to the economy estimated at £1.2 billion, with losses on UK cards from fraud totalling £479m in 2014, so the threat of being scammed is a very real one.
You check your credit report and find entries that you cannot explain
You notice transactions on your bank or credit card statement that were not carried out by you
You apply to claim benefits but are told you are already claiming
You receive bills or invoices for things you have not knowingly paid for
You are refused forms of credit even though you have a good credit history
Post you are expecting never arrives
If any of these things happen to you, you can be reasonably suspicious that you are at risk of or may already be a victim of fraud.
However you should not panic. It may be that a transaction on your statement can be traced back to a harmless source; for example you might see a payment of £50 to your local supermarket when you know you only spent £20 - until you remember you asked for £30 cashback that day. It may also be that a mistake has been made by your bank which can easily be rectified.
What to do about it
Tell your bank. This is the first thing you should do if you spot an anomaly on your bank account or credit card statement.
They will step up security on your account to stop other unauthorised transactions and should refund any money that has been taken; they are obliged to do this by the Payment Service Regulations 2009 and The Lending Code.
Check your credit report. If anything looks suspicious get it rectified before it causes issues. Do this by speaking to the company directly or submitting a query via the credit reference agency. You can get a copy of your statutory credit report for £2 or sign up to a free trial for a pay monthly credit report service with Experian or Equifax; just make sure you cancel before you are charged.
Register with Cifas. This will put a flag against your name on the National Fraud Database so companies will carry out extra checks before they approve applications for financial products in your name. Membership costs £20 a year and may mean that it takes a little longer for you to be approved for credit in the future, but it is likely to be worthwhile.
Speak to Action Fraud Your bank should always be your first port of call if you think you have been scammed, but it is also worth calling Action Fraud for more guidance.
The service is run by the City of London Police working alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and is the UK's national reporting centre for all fraud and internet crime. You can call them on on 0300 123 2040 or submit an enquiry on their website.
Stop it happening again
While no one is infallible, there are a number of precautions you can take to protect yourself and your bank details.
Keep your personal information personal
Cancel any lost or stolen credit cards as soon as they go missing; this will help to minimise any collateral damage. It can be useful to keep a list of your different accounts and the relevant contact numbers together in a safe place just in case of emergency.
Keep your passwords and pin numbers secret. Memorise them, and never write them down in your wallet or diary (or any other equally obvious place). It is strongly advisable to use different passwords for different accounts and to avoid using personal information like dates of birth or names.
Check your statements. Keep a close eye out for unauthorised transactions and notify your bank immediately if you notice anything 'dodgy'.
Play it safe online
Use only reputable websites and only ever enter your personal details on secure websites signified by 'https://' at the start of the url and a padlock or key symbol displayed on the webpage.
Your bank or any other financial institution will never contact you by email asking you for your personal details. If you receive an email of this nature delete it straight away and never click on any links enclosed. These particular scams are known as phishing and exist with the aim of transferring you to a look a like site and capturing your personal details.
Ensure your computer (and any computer you enter your details into) has an up to date firewall and anti-virus software installed, this will help prevent hackers gaining access to your personal information while you are online.
Protect your mail
If you move house, arrange to have your mail redirected to your new home for at least a year. You should also notify your credit card companies of your move along with any other businesses you have dealings with.
You should never throw away any old bills, bank statements or personal correspondence without shredding them first. It is best to use a 'cross-cut' rather than a 'strip' shredder as these do a much better job of destroying your information.
Protect your debit card
When taking cash out from an ATM you should always:
Look for signs of tampering - does there appear to be something stuck on the front, is it different to how usual cash machines look?
Use your other hand to shield what you're doing from view as you type your PIN number into a cash machine
Never let anyone disappear with your cards regardless of where you are and what you are paying for, most establishments now have portable card machines.