If asked, who would you say are the type of people most vulnerable to identity theft? The young and transient, whose credit cards find their way to the doormats of long-left flat shares? The elderly and vulnerable, who unwittingly reveal personal information to fraudsters? How about the savvy and entrepreneurial?
A new report by Cifas reveals that around 20 per cent of identity fraud victims are company directors, even though they make up less than 9 per cent of the UK’s population. Cifas, a not-for-profit company which works to protect organisations and individuals from financial crime, says this makes company directors one of the most at-risk groups for identity fraud crimes.
Not only were company directors statistically more likely to be victims of fraud, but as with other victims they were also found to be at risk from being targeted more than once by identity fraudsters. The Cifas report suggests 17 per cent of director-level victims had suffered impersonation fraud more than once across the three-and-a-half-year period. This comes at a time when identity fraud is at an all-time high, having risen by more than 68 per cent since 2010 to almost 173,000 individual cases in 2016.
The reason for company directors’ high-risk status is the fact some of their personal details will always be in the public domain. Their correspondence address, date of birth and occupation are all freely available through Companies House. Such information can give thieves a head start in piecing together the details they need to apply for loans or make purchases in someone else’s name.
On publication of the report, Cifas chair Lady Barbara Judge CBE advised the following: ‘There will always be more publicly available information about you if you run your own business compared to other individuals. I would encourage company directors to do as much as possible to separate their personal and company personas.’
Cifas also issued a checklist to help company directors protect themselves, but the advice is worth heeding by non-business owners too. Cifas recommends that you:
- Review your credit file regularly through agencies such as Callcredit, Equifax or Experian. This will enable you to spot any suspicious activity before it is too late.
- Think about your digital footprint. Make things more difficult for fraudsters by limiting what personal info is available in the public domain, either on social media or professional networking sites. Also, if you are a business owner, consider listing a business address rather than home address on public director registers. The fewer pieces of the jigsaw a fraudster can get hold of, the harder it will be for them to impersonate you.
- Shred all your financial documents before you throw them away and remember to redirect your mail if you change address or move home.
If you are targeted by identity fraudsters, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime Action Fraud advises you to take a number of steps, including reporting the crime to them.
If you think you’ve fallen victim, you should also:
- Act quickly – even though you didn’t order those goods or open that bank account, the bad debts will end up under your name and address.
- If you believe you’re a victim of identity fraud involving credit and debit cards, online banking or cheques, report it to your bank as soon as possible. Your bank will then be responsible for investigating the issue and reporting any criminal activity to the police. The police will then record your case and decide whether to carry out follow-up investigations.
- Report all lost or stolen documents, such as passports, driving licences, cards and cheque books, to the relevant organisations.
- Contact the Royal Mail Customer Enquiry line on 08457 740 740 if you suspect your mail is being stolen, or that a mail redirection has been fraudulently set up on your address. Royal Mail has an investigation unit that will be able to help you.
Cifas’s report demonstrates how we’re all increasingly vulnerable to identity crimes, even financially empowered business owners. Getting into good financial and social media housekeeping can protect us all, as will remaining vigilant and knowing who to call as soon as you suspect you’ve been targeted.
Helen Monks Takhar is a freelance journalist and writer