It's a shock to discover that your identity had been stolen and used to borrow money and run up debts in your name. Perhaps you receive a letter demanding payment for an account you didn't set up, your credit card statement shows a series of unfamiliar transactions or a lender turns you down on the grounds that you've not been paying your bills. Identity theft affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK each year, and the numbers are constantly growing.
If you don't check your credit report regularly for suspicious transactions, it could be a long time before the companies notice that there is something untoward happening, by which time your finances and credit rating could have seriously suffered. Research by Experian's Victims of Fraud team shows that it takes an average of around 500 days to discover the crime - and a further 300 hours to set the record straight. In the meantime, you could find it impossible to borrow what you need because your credit status has been trashed by criminals. Here's what to do if you suspect you might be one of the unlucky ones.
Check your credit report
This is your personal credit history and details the loans, cards, mortgages and other credit accounts in your name, along with your repayment record. If you spot anything you did not apply for or see an outstanding balance far higher than you can explain, someone is probably using your identity to commit a fraud. You can see your Experian credit report for free with a trial of the credit monitoring and identity protection service CreditExpert.
Report your suspicions
Tell the police if you think your identity has been stolen and used fraudulently and get a crime number or incident number. You should also tell one of the credit reference agencies that holds your credit report - Experian is the UK's largest.
The Victims of Fraud service will help you to investigate and put matters right. They can tell you what to do and help you to set the record straight. If appropriate, they can also add security features to your credit report to obstruct the fraudster and prevent him or her from running up more debts in your name. Call the Victims of Fraud service on 0844 481 8000 to report a possible case of indentity theft.
Contact the organisations who have been duped
Your credit report contains a list of all the lenders who've given you credit, along with their contact details. Get in touch with them and explain what's happened. Be prepared to provide proof - for example, that you could not have been in the place where credit card transactions occurred or that you do not live at the address given for a fake account.
Tell the Post Office
The most common way of stealing an identity in the UK is intercepting your post, so unless you've already identified the cause of your problems you should contact the Post Office and ask them to investigate. In the meantime, make sure your mail isn't left where anyone else can take it, like in a shared hallway.
Your identity is a precious commodity, so take every precaution to ensure that it isn't abused again. For example, you should shred sensitive documents before throwing them away and always report the theft of items such as credit cards, passports and driving licences as soon as possible after the incident occurs.