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You get an email from HMRC asking for your personal banking details. It isn’t from them. Welcome to the unwelcome world of phishing and identity theft.
It’s hard to visualise what it’s all about if identity theft has never happened to you. You may imagine it’s like losing your purse or briefcase, and having all the inconvenience of replacing lost cards. Unfortunately, it’s more pernicious than that.
While almost everything we do of value these days has an online element, identity theft can start with a bit of physical crime. To most of us it’s just recycling, which is good for the environment. To an identity thief though, the contents can be recycled in an entirely less friendly way for your environment.
An unopened offer for a credit card, an old bill, even a personal letter. Suddenly, one of those dinky little household shredders seems a more attractive favourite gadget than a drone or a new games console. That though is just good sense. The really insidious first step to identity theft is a phishing attack - an apparently innocuous email that might simply ask for your details outright or try to get you to download some malicious software that will do the job for the criminals.
It’s enough to make you disconnect every internet device you ever owned, but of course that’s not exactly practical in the twenty-first century. Identity thieves (or just thieves without giving them the glamour of a genre) send out ever more convincing emails and make even more convincing telephone calls, trying to get you to do the unthinkable - reveal your personal details to a complete stranger.
There’s a trend. Identity theft attempts can come in any shape or form, but often follow fashion. If there’s a media scare about a banking issue, fake banking emails will be more prevalent. If it’s tax return time, fake emails, claiming to be from HMRC will show up with increasing frequency - often trying to convince you that a refund is due.
You’d be surprised, no appalled at the number of people who are taken in, and the number is rising. A recent report from a specialist fraud prevention agency put the number of UK victims to be on target for over 100,000 this year. Put it another way, just about everyone in the country will personally know someone who’s been subjected to identity fraud by the end of the year. Pretty scary.
So remember, HMRC wouldn’t turn up at your front door or your inbox unannounced - before you open the door - or that email - ask yourself what sort of person would.