Fraud is something that a lot of people worry about without necessarily knowing how to combat it. From identity theft to dating scams, there's a lot to watch out for - but once you know the principles of keeping yourself safe it can become a lot easier.
Last week, consumer group Which? released the results of their investigation into fraud across the UK. As well as finding that reports of fraud increased by 10% from 2015 to 2016, they also identified so-called 'fraud hotspots'.
These are areas which see unusually high amounts of a particular type of fraud. They include Norfolk, which saw the highest numbers of dating fraud (where somebody poses as a romantic interest then asks for money), as well as Northamptonshire, which saw the most online shopping and auction scams.
Living in one of these 'hotspots' isn't necessarily cause for alarm, though, as you can still take measures to protect yourself.
On the other hand, even if fraud is rare in your area that's no reason not to stay vigilant! Here are a few tips to help you protect yourself from some of the most common scams and schemes.
Who are you talking to? When you communicate with somebody via email or social media, always be aware that they may not be who they say you are. Avoid giving any sensitive or personal information, especially financial details, to somebody if you don't know them well, can't verify their identity, or feel that they are misleading you in some way.
Browsing on the go
If you use the internet on a portable device (such as a phone or laptop) when you’re out and about, how careful are you about the networks that you connect to? When you connect to free public WIfi, it isn't always secure; if you don't need to get a password then you're probably connecting to an unsecured network. This means that the data you input could be visible to fraudsters. This is particularly important when it comes to online banking – so don’t input financial information on an unsecured network!
Protecting your accounts
Creating a lot of different, strong passwords to protect your online accounts can be tedious – but if people find a way into an account that stores personal information and bank details then think of the havoc that they could cause. Building a strong password generally means including
- at least 8 letters
- letters, numbers and symbols
- both uppercase and lowercase
It also means not using the same password across multiple devices: try to come up with unique logins for every account. You should also be protecting the devices themselves, either with strong passwords or a security feature such as a fingerprint scan.
If people can get into your mail, and particularly into items like bills, then they can access information that you wouldn't usually leave out in the open. This can be a weak link in otherwise secure processes, particularly if you live in a building with a communal post area. Wherever possible, secure your mail are and make sure you know what post you're expecting so that you realise if something's gone missing. Many modern companies also now give the option to switch to electronic bills and statements, which may give you peace of mind.
Lock down your private details
You might be surprised by how much of your personal information is out there for anybody to find. If you're on the electoral register but haven't opted out of the open register then people will be able to look you up and see items such as your address - so instead, you might want to appear on the private 'edited' register.
If you share details on social media, check and double check your security settings to make sure that they're only visible to the people who need to see them, not the general public. It's also important not to accept a friend request from somebody you don't know and trust.
Check your credit report for anything you don't recognise
Checking your credit report is a good way to quickly become aware of any unauthorised activity. The three major CRAs, Experian, Equifax and Callcredit, are obliged to give you a copy of your credit report for £2 if you request it – and if something’s wrong you can then ask them to freeze your score and, if necessary, notify the police.
Which? have also created a tool which allows you to uncover the most common types of fraud in your area, which you can find here. Remember, though, that regardless of what the map reveals, it's important to be careful about all types of fraud - stay safe!