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What is identity theft?

Chris Torney / 05 June 2015 ( 31 October 2016 )

What identity theft is, how it works and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Digital finger print
Criminals can get personal or financial information through a variety of means

If a criminal has the necessary information to convince a bank or other lender that they are you, they can use this stolen information to obtain loans or credit cards in your name.

Identity theft can happen in many ways, and fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the methods they use to get their hands on personal information. 

However, there are simple steps you can take to protect your identity from identity thieves.

How can you tell if you've been a victim of identity theft?

How identity theft works

Typically, fraudsters need several pieces of personal and financial information about a victim in order to steal their identity. A victim profile could include your name, address, date of birth and bank account details.

Armed with this information, the criminal could apply for personal loans, credit cards or other goods and services on your behalf.

They often have cards or purchases sent to a different address or have mail intercepted, and often request that loan funds be transferred to a bank account that only they can access.

In many cases, there would be no immediate sign that your identity had been stolen – especially if the relevant correspondence, such as a loan agreement, was being diverted or intercepted.

Check your credit report for unusual activity, such as loans taken out in your name, with our free, no obligation Experian trial*

How your information could be obtained

Criminals can get personal or financial information through a variety of means - from going through unshredded material in your bins, for example, to more sophisticated online tactics such as phishing emails, fake websites and  trawling unsecured WiFi networks.

Read more about the scams used to obtain your personal information

How to prevent identity theft

There are a number of steps you can take to ensure your private details don’t fall into the wrong hands, for example:

  • Use strong, unique passwords for as many online accounts as possible, and change your passwords every couple of months.

  • Don’t be tempted to click on links or attachments received in emails from people you don’t know or that appear suspicious. If you do click on a link and are redirected to a website asking for your account information, do not enter any information without at the very least checking that the website address at the top of the page is that of the real service provider.

  • Always use a home screen lock on your mobile device and be aware of the information stored on your device in apps that are not password protected.

  • Open Wi-Fi hotspots that do not require a password are riskier than private networks, so don’t access sensitive financial information on an open network.

  • Keep your antivirus up to date on all your internet connected devices to protect you from malware.

Seven password mistakes to avoid

Checking for identity theft

Your credit report shows any applications for credit that have been made in your name.

Unusual activity on your credit report can be an early indicator you’ve been a victim of identity theft, so monitor your credit report regularly so you can take steps to investigate anything suspicious and resolve fraud before you suffer financial loss.

You can check your report by contacting one of the UK’s three credit-reference agencies Callcredit, Equifax and Experian.

Take control of your finances and improve your credit score with free access to your Experian credit report for 30 days. Find out more.

*A monthly fee of £14.99 applies after your 30-day trial – you can cancel at any time during your trial with no charge. New customers only.


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.