Identity theft at epidemic levels.

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Identity theft at epidemic levels warns fraud prevention service.

Data fraud is achieving epidemic levels with about 500 cases happening in the UK consistently, as indicated by a leading fraud prevention servicet.

Cifas is the UK’s driving cross-sector fraud prevention service and deals with the biggest confirmed fraud database in the country. In the half year of the year, the organisation recorded more than 89,000 cases of identity theft. That represented a 5% increase over a similar period in 2016 and was also another record high. Altogether, there were 89,201 ID frauds announced amongst January and June of this current year, with more than four fifths (83%) of cases occurring on the web.

A Chief Executive of Cifas, said: “We have seen identity fraud attempts increase year on year, now reaching epidemic levels, with identities being stolen at a rate of almost 500 a day.

“These frauds are taking place almost exclusively online. The vast amounts of personal data that is available either online or through data breaches is only making it easier for the fraudster. Criminals are relentlessly targeting consumers and businesses and we must all be alert to the threat and do more to protect personal information.”

Victims more likely to be in their 30s and 40s

The stereotypical view of the average fraud victim is probably that of an easily deceived or vulnerable OAP. That might be the case for some types of fraud, but across the board victims of identity theft are more likely to be in their 30s or 40s. Those aged 31 to 40 were statistically the most likely to be targeted, followed by 41 to 50-year-olds. One reason for this is that those age groups tend to be more active online, with a more prominent digital footprint than over-60s.

The over-60s are in fact the only age group that has seen cases of identity theft fall during the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2016. 21 to 30-year-olds saw the biggest rise and this finding has been backed up by a separate study by Experian. The credit-checking company found that, over the past three years, victims were more likely to be males in their 20s living in London.

Businesses at risk as well as individuals

Individuals who found themselves the victims of this sort of crime could find large debts accumulated in their names, which could adversely affect their credit ratings. Cifas warned that businesses should also beware of identity theft. Products and services such as loans, insurance products and ecommerce purchases were increasingly being ordered under accounts based on stolen accounts.

Mr Dukes said: “For smaller and medium-sized businesses in particular, they must focus on educating staff on good cybersecurity behaviours and raise awareness of the social engineering techniques employed by fraudsters. Relying solely on new fraud prevention technology is not enough.”

Katy Worobec, from UK Finance, which represents the banking industry, told the BBC: “Tackling fraud and financial crime is a top priority for the industry. Banks have sophisticated controls in place to safeguard the financial system from fraudsters, and work closely with enforcement agencies and government to identify and disrupt criminal activity.”

How to protect yourself from identity theft

There are a number of steps you can take, as an individual, an employer or employee, to at least minimise the chances of being a victim of this kind of fraud.

As most identity theft takes place online, making sure you have an effective firewall and anti-virus software is crucial. This can also protect against other types of threat such as malware and should be an essential element of your online security measures. It’s also important to make sure that these programmes are kept up to date. Setting them to search for and apply updates automatically is generally a good idea.

You should also limit the amount of personal information you share online. Don’t share your birthday, address, phone number and other personal information in public places and it’s better if you don’t share this sort of info online at all. Photographs that can be used to identify your house or location are often overlooked.

Never share your passwords or PINs and use strong passwords with combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Be aware of how phishing scams operate and never click on a link or reply to an email that you are unsure of.

Not all identity theft takes place entirely or partly online, so you should also make sure you shred any financial statements or other letters and documents containing personal information before disposing of them.