The chances are you probably have a
good idea already as to why you should invest in a shredder.
If you haven't already seen the publicity about identity
theft and identity fraud, against companies as well as against
individuals, then the following should give you a clearer
picture. One thing you can be certain of, is
the fact that the more publicity is given to identity theft
and identity fraud, the more likely it is to occur to the
criminally inclined that this is one way of making money
that they might never otherwise have thought of.
Another point to consider, is
that once a would-be identity thief has been down your neighbours
dustbin and realises that your neighbour uses a crosscut
paper shredder, the more likely it is that he won't waste
his time going down that dustbin again but will move onto
the next bin which could be yours. The greater the
number of your neighbours who buy a crosscut shredder before
you, the higher the chances of it being your dustbin that
receives unwanted attention.
Identity theft is
growing fast, costing around £1.7 billion and affecting
up to 100,000 people each year. Strangely, it's not a crime
at the moment although the Government is considering making
it one. It only becomes a crime when a stolen identity is
actually used to obtain goods and services by deception
at which point it becomes known as identity fraud.
Banks alone acknowledge about £500m of such
fraud a year in the UK - up from £213m in 2000 and £62m
in 1995. But banking insiders recently told the
newspaper Scotland on Sunday that as much as
another £500m was discovered by the industry but never reported
to police, under a controversial policy of dealing in-house
with any theft of £2,000 or less.
Somebody once said
that if you want to know what is going to be happening in
the UK in ten years time, then you need only look at what
is happening in the USA today. Unfortunately, with
the scourge that is identity fraud, the UK is very much
in danger of catching up with the USA in less than ten years.
Almost 20% of consumers in the USA admit to falling victim
to identity theft.
Younger adults are
most at risk according to Experian-Gallup Personal Credit
Index published on the 4th August 2005. Identity theft
in the UK is rapidly on the up, with an increase of 165%
over the available figures for 2004 according to Credit
reference agency Experian. It has been suggested that
over 100,000 people will have been the victims of identity
theft in the UK in 2005 (and the figure is rising year on
year) and it is estimated that this will have cost the British
economy over £1.7 billion (and again the figure is rising).
It can also take
up to 300 hours of your time to repair your credit record
if you become a victim of this particular crime. Many
victims do not discover their identity has been stolen for
an average of 18 months.
However, is it any
wonder that this particular crime is on the increase, when
so much detailed information is given as to how identity
thieves go about their task? I am reminded of an article
I read in one of the tabloid newspapers only a few months
ago, in which a convicted burglar, originally from Eastern
Europe, explained how he had learnt valuable tips of the
trade from, of all places, a police website. The same
could be said about identity theft but this information
is not confined to police websites. If you were to
type in identity theft into the Google UK search engine,
and search the web you would see that this returns some
50,300,000 results If you search for pages from the
UK only, it returns only 590,000 results. Thousands
of these results describe in detail how easily identity
thieves go about stealing other peoples identities.
Some of the things
you might discover if you were to carry out a search for
the term identity theft are:
- The increase in the practice of bin-raiding (dumpster-diving
as it is known in the USA and the American courts have
decided that dumpster-diving is not in itself illegal) where
a would-be identity thief goes through the contents of your
dustbin to see if you have carelessly discarded information
that could be used in helping to steal your identity.
Identity theft often occurs because someone has been careless
with personal or business information. UK credit reference
agency Experian, in co-operation with the London Borough
of Camden, analyzed the contents of the dustbins of 327
domestic homes and 71 companies and organizations to assess
the potential for identity fraud (apparently bin raiders
in certain parts of London are paid up to £5 a document
by would-be identity thieves). Some of the information
found included the names, addresses and mobile telephone
numbers of well known film and television stars that had
been discarded by a film and theatrical agency. Photocopies
of passports with passport numbers, dates of birth and photographs
of customers had been thrown out by a travel agent.
Full financial details of applicants for courses at an educational
establishment had been put into dustbins. Detailed
scaled plans of NHS hospitals and other public buildings
had been thrown out by an architect. Full medical
records of the patients of a doctors surgery had been thrown
away. Signed witness statements and sworn affidavits
had been discarded by a barristers chambers. A PR
company had thrown out embargoed press releases and bank
account details of its clients. A mortgage broker
had discarded numerous completed mortgage applications containing
full financial details of its clients.
Apart from the above,
one in ten domestic households was found to have discarded
a compete combination of credit or debit card number, with
expiry date, issue number and signature. This would
have proved a golden opportunity for someone to carry out
card-not-present fraud which is one of the fastest growing
ID frauds in the UK and costs £110 million a year.
Small wonder that many if not all credit and debit card
companies now insist on the three-digit security number
from such cards being taken for such card-not-present transactions.
Chip and Pin is now becoming more commonplace for cardholder
present transactions involving credit and debit cards.
Many other assorted
articles were also found in this selection of dustbins including
mortgage statements, bank account numbers and balances,
a cheque book complete with ten cheques, an uncashed cheque,
medical information, an MPs signature, CVs, driving licenses
and a death certificate. Jill Stevens, Consumer Relations
Director at Experian, commented .as consumers, we are
all still binning far too much personal information which
can and is being used by fraudsters to fuel the current
boom in ID fraud.
- Information as discarded above can, as the Home Office point
out, be used to open bank accounts, obtain credit and debit
cards, store cards or benefits or services in the
or utility accounts or take out loans.
- An identity thief could open a bank account and write bad
cheques in the victims name.
- Credit reference agency Experian's research shows that the
people most likely to be the victims of identity theft include
young professionals and middle-aged families living in central
London with office and service jobs. These groups
are twice as likely to be victims of identity fraud.
- Those who earn over £60,000 are almost three times more
likely to be victims of identity fraud and the better-off
in the suburbs are four times more likely to be victims
of identity fraud.
- An identity thief could give your name to the police during
an arrest. If they are released and fail to show up
at a later court hearing, a warrant for the victims arrest
could be issued.
- Identity thieves even steal the identities of deceased people.
- If you use a mailbox rather than a letterbox you are more
likely to have your mail stolen
- London is the UK's identity theft hot spot. A quarter
of all identity theft cases have taken place in the
capital this year. Experian reveals that Londoners
are twice as likely to become victims of identity theft
as the average UK region.
- Enfield residents are more than twice as likely to become
victims of identity theft as the average London borough.
Enfield is followed by Bexley and Harrow in second and third
- Identity thieves will intercept victims mail,
telephone victims pretending to be from their bank, send
out phishing emails asking the intended victim to
click on a link and generally reconfirm personal
- Amongst many other tales of stolen identity, there is the
story of the woman from Ipswich who received more than 50
unpaid parking fines notices totalling thousands of pounds,
from several London boroughs. Despite the fact that
she had never held a driving license, a fraudster had been
able to register his vehicle in her name and run up parking
- Your mothers maiden name can be particularly useful to
an identity thief.
- Anyone can apply for a copy of your birth certificate or
driving license. With a birth certificate, a fraudster
will know your mothers maiden name, and can acquire a passport
in your name. Include public records like the Land
Registry, Companies House and the Electoral Roll and
not a lot about you that can't be discovered.
- Identity thieves can get your mail redirected, or apply
for credit cards using your name and your real address as
the former address on the application. Mobile phone
accounts, loans, overdrafts all can be taken out in your
- Capital one (the credit card company) carried out research
that showed that 43 per cent of people did not remember
to redirect their mail when they moved house. Only
five per cent of those that did redirected it for more than
- A research company, Populous, found that 40 per cent of
those polled feared being a victim of identity fraud more
than pick pocketing, mugging or burglary and rightly so
if the statistics are anything to go by.
- There is a case of identity fraud every four minutes, according
to Professor Martin Gill, a criminologist at the University
of Leicester. Professor Gill interviewed five criminals
as part of a study into identity theft commissioned by Capital
One, the loan company. One thief preyed on flats with
shared mailboxes, which make it easier for mail to be stolen.
Another used mail addressed to the former resident of her
flat to open a credit account.
- Two identity thieves admitted to bribing delivery men into
parting with items.
- Unattended handbags were also a useful source for thieves.
Capital One's data suggested more than 3 million people
regularly carried their bank statements with them, 4.9 million
carried their pay slips, and 3.4 million took their passports
around with them. Around 7 million people admit to
leaving bags and briefcases unattended in public places.
Professor Gill said criminals who got an illegitimate credit
or debit card found it easy to use them. Signature
checks were reportedly lax. Some male perpetrators
even managed to use cards bearing female identities.
- A thief can spend freely with a stolen credit card until
it is reported stolen or lost. Even then, they can
be used as identification to acquire store cards in your
name. This is because at present shops issuing store-cards
are denied access to the banks hot card file of stolen
- According to the BBC's news website, Fraudsters bribe burglars
and postmen for bank statements, which contain enough data
to open new accounts and take out fraudulent loans in your
- The Money Programme was told by a convicted fraudster,
Glenn Davies, now in jail, about his role in a nationwide
ring of identity thieves, which utilises private financial
information, supplied by corrupt bank staff.
Only very recently,
in February this year, two identity fraudsters got confidential
information about comedian Harry Hill, 41, from a bank clerk
and used it to set up an internet account in his name.
They then siphoned cash from the comedian's genuine Halifax
accounts into the bogus one. In one month a series of large
sums were transferred out of the online account to various
beneficiaries and stolen. Hill, whose account was
in his real name of Dr Matthew Hall, discovered the theft
when he visited his Halifax branch in Battersea, South London,
to query the transactions. The stand-up comic was one of
five wealthy clients targeted. The unnamed conmen
got their confidential details from Sharmane Dillon, 23,
a Halifax customer adviser. Dillon claimed the men,
who were not caught, threatened her with violence.
They sent her the names of chosen victims by text message
and she searched the computer database for dates of births
and answers to security questions.
Evans told Harrow crown court that one conman then posed
as Hill to alter the bank's records of his address.
He said: "It was changed to somewhere in Woolwich. A code
was then issued to that address which enabled fraudulent
Dillon, who worked
in Wembley, admitted passing on customer details but denied
plotting fraud. She denied the charge of conspiracy
to defraud saying she did not profit from the crime, and
only took part because the conmen had threatened to hurt
her family and slit her throat if she did not help.
However a jury at
Harrow Crown Court found the 23-year-old guilty by a majority
verdict . The fraudsters themselves were not caught.
Judge Susan Tapping told her: It would be very wrong if
I didn't warn you that a custodial sentence is very much
on the cards for this offence.
Four other accounts
were targeted in the sting, which netted more than £578,000
in 2004; although all the victims have got their money back.
She was released on bail and will be sentenced next month.
Last year another comedian, Ricky Gervais, was also a victim
of identity fraud when a picture taken from the cover of
a DVD was used in a stolen passport.
So where does this
leave you? If you can't even trust the staff at your
bank it doesn't leave too much hope. MPs recently
voted to bring in voluntary ID cards. Presumably criminals
will choose to opt out given the choice. But apart
from biometric ID cards what can you do to protect your
identity? If you are not rich or famous, and thus
specifically targeted as Ricky Gervais and Harry Hill were,
you should stand a better chance of protecting yourself
by, at the very least, investing in a decent shredder, of
at least security level 3 or 4, and shred every bit of correspondence
that you throw in your dustbin, absolutely everything and
anything that has confidential information on it, even if
it is only your name and address.
ABT Office Supplies Ltd supply the widest range of paper
shredders from no less than 9 major manufacturers including
desktop CD shredders. By shredding often and shredding
well, you will go a long way to protecting yourself against
opportunistic identity thieves who might be looking to raid
your dustbin for useful personal details.