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Seven ways criminals get personal information

Esther Shaw / 17 September 2015 ( 02 November 2016 )

Criminals can be very convincing as they often do their research and know a lot about you before they target you. Here are seven ways criminals can get information about you.

Digital padlock to represent online security
Criminals could hack into your emails or try to trick you into divulging information online

You might think of yourself as very security-conscious when it comes to protecting your personal information.

The problem is fraudsters have developed increasingly sophisticated ways to try and get hold of your details.

This means they often know a lot about you before they target you, and this can help them to gain your confidence – making you even more vulnerable to attack.

Worried you have been targeted by a scammer? Check your bank statements and credit report (free 30-day trial here*) for unusual activity.

1. Hacking into emails

Some fraudsters will try and get hold of your personal details by hacking into your email account – so you need to be on your guard.

If you think your information may have been compromised, change the passwords on your online accounts – and particularly those where you have provided financial information.

You should shut down any other online accounts that you don’t use, as each one could contain valuable personally-identifiable details.

Five signs your email account has been hacked

2. Phishing

Fraudsters will also try and trick people into giving out security information by sending so-called “phishing” emails purporting to be from friends or trusted organisations, such as HMRC.

You should be very wary before opening an email from someone you don’t know, and you should never click on links or open attachments, as these could lead you to a bogus site.

If an email seems suspicious, contact the relevant organisation, and don’t give out personal details.

A reputable firm will never ask for confirmation of details by email.

Read our guide to spotting a scam email

3. Phone scams

An increasing problem involves criminals phoning people at home while posing as the bank, police or a Government department, and then tricking people into revealing personal or financial information.

To protect yourself, you should never give your PIN, online banking or banking security codes over the phone.

If in doubt, end the phone call and ring the organisation back from the official phone number on the website.

Make sure the line is clear before calling back, as criminals have been known to stay on the line and play a dialling tone, so that you think you are calling your bank but are still connected to the fraudster. If possible, use another phone or call a friend first so that you know the suspicious caller has definitely hung up.

Avoid getting caught by a phone scam

4. Monitoring your social media

If you use social media websites, you need to be careful about the information you share, as Facebook profiles and tweets can be a goldmine for crooks because they can piece together information and steal an identity.

Don’t accept friendship requests on Facebook or invitations on LinkedIn from people you don’t know, and think twice before posting details such as your birthday, email address or location. All of this information could be misused by a fraudster. Also make use of privacy settings.

Read our guide to spotting a fake social media profile

5. Computer viruses

Intelligence shows criminals are using computer viruses to steal personal and financial information which is then used to commit fraud.

The best way to avoid this is to keep your computer’s firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs updated.

10 sure-fire signs your computer has a virus

6. Via your smartphone

Your smartphone is likely to contain emails and apps that can be accessed without a password. If your phone gets into the wrong hands a fraudster could get access to a lot of personal information.

To reduce the risk, you should regularly clear the cache on your device and disable auto-fill settings.

Also be aware that public networks and open wi-fi hotspots are more risky than private networks as there are software programs that can intercept any information that you send on a public wi-fi signal. Be conscious of the sites that you access and always log out properly once you’re finished.

Eight warning signs that your personal information has been stolen

7. Intercepting post

Mail non-receipt fraud involves conmen targeting multiple occupancy residences to intercept cards and personal details from post boxes.

If you share communal hallways you should be very alert to the risk. If you think your post is being stolen, you should contact Royal Mail immediately.

In other cases, fraudsters will try and get their hands on your mail if you fail to redirect it when you move home.

To protect yourself, you should always inform all relevant organisations of your address when you leave, and make use of the Royal Mail redirect service.

Post that might signify a scam

What happens once a criminal gets your details?

Once your details have been compromised, a criminal may use these to commit fraud.

This might be through telephone or online banking channels or shopping online, or by applying for a loan or other type of credit in your name.

If you fall victim, your credit rating could be affected, and you may end up having to completely reorganise your financial accounts.

Use Experian's free 30-day trial to check your credit report for unusual activity and unauthorised credit that has been taken out in your name*

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.