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The tell-tale signs of identity theft and how to protect your details

The tell-tale signs of identity theft and how to protect your details
James Masters
Written By:
James Masters

If you ever receive letters about loans or credit cards you didn't apply for, or a mobile phone contract you didn't take out, your identity may have been stolen by scammers. Here's how to protect your personal details and what to do if your data's been compromised.

Ever woken up to an unexplained letter from a debt collector? Maybe you’ve applied for a mortgage that was declined even though you thought you had a perfect credit score? Perhaps you’ve found that numerous phone accounts have been taken out in your name or that someone has managed to secure a loan and left you to pay it back?

All these experiences are common when it comes to identity theft, as James Masters from Stop Scams UK explains.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when criminals manage to piece together enough information about someone’s identity.

This information, such as your name, date of birth, address, National Insurance number, etc, can then be used to set up bank accounts and plastic cards in your name, as well as other official documents such as passports and driving licences.

Once they’ve got hold of the credit cards, the criminals can carry out identity fraud by making unauthorised purchases or applying for new credit and debit cards with the individual’s stolen identity.

In other cases, they may carry out an account takeover where the criminal gains access to the individual’s online bank account. They’ll then withdraw cash, make purchases, or sell the data to another fraudster.

Factbox: According to the latest UK Finance Report, card ID theft increased by a massive 53% to £79m.

How do criminals pull this off?

Fraudsters are becoming increasingly creative in the way they get hold of your personal data, but sometimes the old methods still work.

Just last month, a man was jailed in London after pulling off a £32,000 scam by using post stolen from post boxes to set up credit cards. Targeting entrances to communal flats, he managed to gain enough personal information about residents to open new bank accounts in their names, as well as apply for cards.

The online world remains a fruitful one for fraudsters. Sometimes they’ll attempt to access personal information sold on the dark web following a data breach, or through a phishing attack.

A phishing attack is when criminals send scam emails or messages that are designed to get their target to click on a link that will then take them to a malicious website. That website may trick the individual into revealing sensitive information such as login details, passwords and banking information.

In some of these cases, fraudsters will often pose as a trusted individual, such as someone from the bank or law enforcement, and ask their target to click on a link that could then download malware on to their device or direct them to a fake website to make a payment, revealing their personal information.

How do I know if my identity has been stolen?

Often with identity theft, the crime has been committed long before the individual realises. But there can be clues that something untoward is going on, such as if you receive letters about loans or credit cards you didn’t apply for, or that a mobile phone contract has been set up in your name.

There may also be transactions you don’t recognise on your bank statement or withdrawals you didn’t make. Other instances such as changes to your credit report, letters about unpaid debt or suddenly being refused new credit are also tell-tale signs.

If you think your identity has been stolen, then report it to your bank or contact it securely through the 159 phoneline. You should also report the incident to the police and Action Fraud.

How can I protect myself from identity theft?

  • Never share personal information with anyone who emails you or calls you out of the blue. If you’re not sure, call the business directly by going through its website. Do not click on the link in the email.
  • Avoid using and reusing predictable passwords such as dates, family and pet names. Instead, use three random words to create a different and unique password for every application.
  • Don’t overshare personal information online, as identity thieves can take advantage with minimal information.
  • Be cautious when shopping online. Only use reputable, secure sites. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you think your personal information may have been made public in a data breach, then go to to check.
  • If you’re expecting a letter or new card from your bank and it doesn’t arrive, inform it of the loss.
  • Take time to regularly review your bank and credit card statements. This can help you spot any suspicious transactions. Signing up to credit referencing agency can also help provide an early warning of loan applications and credit card applications by identity thieves.
  • If you’re worried that you’ve lost money to a scam, then contact your bank securely by dialling 159. You can also report the incident to Action Fraud and the police.
  • Report suspicious messages to 7726 and emails to


James Masters is senior communications officer at Stop Scams UK