National Identity Fraud Prevention Week begins today, bringing with it a stark warning to the British public that they should be doing more to protect against becoming victims of identity fraud.

The site advises:

  • Vigilance: Beware of anybody who contacts you unexpectedly and asks for personal information or account details.
  • Attention To Billing Cycles: A missing bill could mean a fraudster has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address.
  • Check your credit report: Regular monitoring of your credit report will alert you if someone has been using your identity to obtain credit.
  • Shred all documents: This is the best way to ensure that criminals cannot build up a profile based on the information you discard in your rubbish.
  • Protect your post: Deposit outgoing post in post office collection boxes or at your local post office and avoid telltale piles of unopened mail on your doormat, with services like the Royal Mail’s Keepsafe scheme.
  • Stay safe online: Make sure the latest security patches and up-to-date anti-virus software is installed.

Now in its second year, the campaign seeks to stop what it said is complacency amongst the British public. The awareness drive by a public and private sector group that includes the Metropolitan Police (and other regional police forces), The Identity and Passport Service, CIFAS – The UK's Fraud Prevention Service, Fellowes, the Federation of Small Businesses, Callcredit, Equifax and Experian places the onus on the end user to detect threats.

Some of the statistics quoted on its stop-idfraud.co.uk website include 77% of household waste contained at least one or more items which could assist fraudsters in stealing an identity (Fellowes Survey 2005) and it takes 467 days to discover that you are a victim of identity fraud according to Experian.

But Clive Longbottom, Quocirca senior analyst said the government should spend more time working with industry experts to tighten corporate practices.

“It’s all very well getting somebody to shred their paperwork and do everything they can to protect their identity, but if that person’s information is available on a company’s database via a poorly protected website and their identity is stolen it’s not traceable for that person. They’re whole life is hijacked and put on hold,’ he said.

“We’re not just up against opportunists that swipe your card details when you’re not looking, they are big criminal gangs involved that steal your whole identity to buy cars and get mortgages.”

He called on the government to force companies to have better security than they do now, listen to the experts and work on an international level as well as targeting the consumer.

The last official UK estimate puts the cost of identity fraud at £1.7 billion, according to figures published by the Home Office in February 2006.