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Who Are You? How To Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

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Do you fancy 10% off your next shop? Want to claim a free drink by signing up to our newsletter? You're a student; cash is tight; free stuff is good. But are you putting yourself at risk by filling out that form? Identity theft is a real threat, and students are not adequately protecting themselves against it.

Your personal information is valuable, so you should treat it just as you would any valuable item. Do you really know who you are giving your personal information to and what they plan to do with it? Identity thieves and blaggers make a living from your personal information. If you're anything like me, you're probably strapped for cash - do you really want to be helping someone else out at your expense?

A recent study published by the Information Commissioner’s Office (October 2011) highlighted some worrying statistics in this area, drawing attention to the fact that most students are not adequately protecting themselves against the risk of identity theft. Results of the survey, carried out by YouGov, show that one in three students (33%) have not arranged for their important post to be redirected after changing their address, meaning bank statements could be falling into the wrong hands - and two thirds (66%) have never checked their credit rating, letting suspicious credit applications to go unnoticed.. Four out of ten students (42%) are concerned that personal information available about them online might affect their future employment prospects.

Being aware of data protection is all well and good, but how do you protect yourself against identity theft? 

When moving house, inform your bank and other organisations to re-direct your mail to ensure that your information doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Your bank statements provide a snapshot of your recent transactions and bank details – a useful sheet of paper for you, and a potential income source for someone else. Any printed information that you no longer require should be shredded before binning to protect your privacy.

Your social networking profile provides an insider’s view into your personal life. Ensure that you use the privacy settings provided to protect yourself by filtering exactly who can see the information that you provide. At the end of the day, you are creating a page which is reflective of your character. Do you really want your parents or potential employer to see everything that you post? More importantly, don’t give out personal details such as your address, telephone number and place of work – you never know who might be looking at your profile what they intend to do with the information they find.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights, and has recently launched a nationwide campaign aimed at raising awareness of information rights among students.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said “In tough times, young people are clearly less relaxed about privacy, particularly in relation to information that they post online - but many may not know what they can do about it.”

Here are some simple steps you can take to safeguard your personal information:

  • Store documents carrying any personal details in a safe place
  • Shed or destroy all documents containing any personal details before throwing them away
  • Ask the Post Office for advice on secure postage if you have to post any personal documents
  • Limit the number of documents containing personal details you carry around on a daily basis
  • Check your bank and credit card statements carefully for unfamiliar transactions
  • Use different passwords and PINs for different accounts
  • Be careful when using public computers to access your personal information. Remove personal details on screen and uncheck the ‘remember password’ box
  • Check your credit file regularly for any suspicious applications
  • Always think about who you are giving information to and why they would need it. Don’t be afraid to ask
  • Protect your home computer with anti-virus, firewall and anti-spam software before going online
  • When you move house, redirect all your mail and inform your bank, utilities companies and other organisations of your new address
Beth Mortimer, a final year Politics student said, “It’s scary when you think about how much information you provide on a daily basis. I’d hate to think that the information that I give out could be used against me in the future.”

Identity thieves are using increasingly sophisticated software to gain access to your information. Think twice before providing your details and question what they will be used for. Above all, trust your instincts. Read the small print and know what you are signing up to.

For more information about how to protect your personal information visit www.ico.gov.uk or join the campaign on facebook at www.facebook.com/therealalexdavies




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