There is a balance to be struck between caution and over-confidence. As with any risk, we all make judgements about how safe or otherwise we are and we will differ on what we think is a reasonable risk. Speed and convenience are often sold to us as desirable qualities in a product or service and that is sometimes part of the problem. If something is easy to do, many of us do it without much thought as to the potential for fraud, identity theft or unwanted attention. But the Home Office has developed a simple guide to avoiding the very worst of these issues at

In the days before email by Ken Douglas CC Flickr Protecting yourself

Looking after your identity and personal information is becoming ever more important. Criminals can use your details to open bank accounts, take loans or obtain passports or driving licences in your name. Once done, the damage can be long lasting leaving it difficult for you to get loans, credits cards or a mortgage until things are sorted out. It’s worth taking a few simple steps to protect yourself.

Your post is a vulnerable aspect of your life as many confidential aspects of life are dealt with in hard copy. Always be careful if pother people have access to your post. Contact Royal Mail if you think you are missing mail or its been tampered with. If your mail stops, check whether a mail redirect order has been made in your name without your knowledge. When you move house, always use Royal Mail’s redirection service if you can afford it; that way you can be sure that no mail belonging to you will arrive at your old address and potentially be used fraudulently. If you move house, always tell your bank, credit card company and all other organisations as soon as possible so they change their mailing list to your new address.

Passport dilemma by Daniel Greer CC FlickrPersonal documents

Your identity is often proved by showing a single document such as a driving licence or passport. Keeping such documents locked up at home is an important priority. You can buy a simple lockable (and fireproof) unit for only a few pounds and know that you have placed in the way of any thief another hurdle to accessing your identity papers. You can also be vulnerable if you throw away documents such as bills, receipts, credit or debit card slips or bank statements; all too often these items can be found drifting down the road or dumped on the roadside available to anyone with intent to steal your identity. Always tear them up when disposing of them and preferably use a shredder, again easily purchased at a moderate price.

Passwords and pins

Passwords are a major way in which thieves can access your personal details. Keeping secure a range of different passwords for your many websites can be problematic. Never store or record them in a way that leaves them open to theft, such as in your wallet or purse. Always use a different password for each account; if you use the single password option, then the thief only needs to gain access to one of those accounts to have access to them all! Your mother’s maiden name or family dates of birth are public information and are not secure as passwords. Think of a saying or phrase that you will always remember and use that to create a password with capital letters, number and punctuation marks included. Seven or eight figures is much more secure than four or five.

Incorrect Passwords by Lulu Hoeller CC FlickrAnd if you are a victim?

If you lose your passport, driving licence, chequebook, credit or debit card immediately tell the organisation that issued it. Delay gives a thief more chance to make more of their opportunity. Order your personal credit file from a credit reference agency (this costs as little as £2) to see if it includes any entries you do not recognise. Take action if you find entries from organisations you don’t normally deal with by contacting them; keep a record of your actions, copies of letters both send and received, notes of whom you spoke to and when. Contact the credit reference agency and they will tell all the others. You can register for protection through the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service CIFAS; they charge for this service but as a result, all CIFAS members carry out extra checks on any application from your address.

No one wants to be a victim of identity theft. The consequences can be extensive and last for years. We can all do small things that make it more difficult for fraudsters and thieves to profit from our details and as a result we are less likely to look back with regret. Find out more at