Identity theft & fraud 

Identity theft is when someone takes your personal information and pretends to be you for their personal (often financial) gain.

Criminals steal your identity so that they can do things like open bank accounts or get credit cards, passports, mobile phone contracts and other documents in your name.

As well as finding personal information in the real world (eg taking documents from your rubbish and intercepting your mail or stealing your wallet or purse), criminals are increasingly using technology to facilitate identity theft.

They’re sending emails claiming to be from your bank and asking you to confirm your account details and password; they’re setting up fraudulent websites; and they’re targeting mobile users who have Bluetooth on their phones.

Research by Get Safe Online revealed that the boom in smartphones is making people vulnerable, with 67 per cent of those who access the internet from their mobiles not using a password or PIN number. Smartphones should be treated like a mini laptop – if your mobile is stolen, the thief might be able to access your emails, social networking profile or even your online bank account.

Did you know?
Identity theft accounted for more than 60 per cent of all UK fraud in 2013.

What do I need to know about identity theft and internet fraud? 

You might think that identity theft is more of an issue for adults than for children. But young people can be the victims of identity theft too and it might go undetected for several years, until they want to open their own bank account or take out a student loan, for example.

In fact, research reveals that 16-24 year olds are more at risk of online fraud than any other age group in the UK, as they are more likely to shop and conduct their lives online.

Younger internet users are particularly vulnerable as they might be more trusting of strangers and not realise how someone could misuse their personal information. So, it’s important that your whole family understands how to minimise the risks of identity theft.

What action can I take? 

Talk to your child about what ‘personal details’ are – it’s not just their (and your) name, address, phone number and date of birth but also things like bank account numbers, passport numbers and online passwords – and explain why it’s important that they keep their (and your) personal details to themselves

Encourage them to use different user names on public websites (ie not their real name or email address) and to ask you first before submitting personal information online (eg when they’re registering on a games website)

If you know their social networking profile ID, let them know you’ll keep an eye on the kind of personal information they post on the site

Teach them about email scams (called ‘phishing’) that ask for personal information and often claim to be from a bona fide organisation like a bank or the police

Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, spam filters and a firewall in place and, if you have a wireless network at home, make sure it’s encrypted

Keep your debit and credit cards safe – if your child wants to buy something online, enter the card details yourself

Set up a PIN on your and your child's mobiles and use strong passwords (a mixture of letters, symbols and numbers) on your computer and websites. Don’t write them down, don’t share them with anyone and change them regularly – teach your child to do the same

Encourage your son or daughter to keep portable devices like mobiles and laptops safe and secure, just as they would their money or other valuables

Teach them to not open email attachments unless they know who has sent the email and to only download content from websites they trust

If your child’s mobile is Bluetooth-enabled, set Bluetooth to ‘off’ so that other Bluetooth users can’t access the information stored on their mobile (known as Bluesnarfing)

Obtain your credit file from a company like Experian or Equifax so you can check which financial institutions have accessed your details

If you or your child are the victim of identity theft, report it to the police and get a Crime Reference Number or contact Crimestoppers

Read our articles about Bluetooth, privacy, security and spam & scams

Where can I go for more information and support? 

  • Read Tony Neate's article from our Digital Parenting magazine
  • Report online fraud to Action Fraud in the UK
  • Bank Safe Online explains online banking scams, such as phishing, and lets you report them in the UK
  • You can report identity theft crime in the UK to Crimestoppers
  • The Identity Theft website, set up by the UK government and other relevant organisations, provides in-depth advice about identity theft in both the real world and virtual world
  • Get Safe Online, the UK’s national internet security awareness campaign, has a useful section called ‘Help me stop identity theft’
  • Get advice and talk to other parents on Mumsnet
  • Family Lives' 24/7 Parentline offers guidance on a wide range of parenting issues