Published on: 4 July 2024

What are identity theft and identity fraud?

Your personal information, like your name, date of birth and address, is used for all sorts of financial things. For example, you can use it to open bank accounts, get loans and take out new mobile phone contracts. It’s also used for state benefits, to get credit cards, and to order goods and services.

But once a criminal steals your personal information, they can use it to do these things in your name without you knowing.

Often, the first you’ll hear about this is when you see an unexpected payment on your account. Or a bill or invoice comes in the post and you don’t know where it’s come from or why they’re contacting you.

Losses from card identity theft increased by 53% between 2022- 23. In total £79.1 million was lost – the highest amount ever recorded according to UK Finance’s annual report (opens in a new window).

Identity fraud can also impact your credit score

Building societies and banks use credit scoring to estimate the risk involved in lending. It helps make sure everyone who applies for credit is treated fairly. We use credit scoring to check you qualify for things like overdrafts, credit cards, personal loans and mortgages.

There are lots of things that affect your score. For example, credit agreements and how much outstanding credit you have.

This is another area where identity fraud can have real damage. Not only are criminals stealing people's money. They’re able to take out credit agreements with stolen personal details, leaving these marks on their victims’ credit scores. This can stop people from accessing the credit they need.

How to keep your personal information safe

  • Protect yourself and your money online.
    Install virus checkers onto all your devices. This includes your computer, laptop, phone and tablet. And remember to keep them up to date by regularly checking for updates or setting them up to automatically update. Also be careful when using social media – it's targeted by criminals to harvest personal financial information. Check your privacy settings to make sure only those you trust can view your account and posts.

  • Redirect your mail when you move home.
    Before you move home, make a list of all the companies that have your address. And make sure you update all of them as soon as you move. You can also ask Royal Mail to redirect any post (opens in a new window) to your new address for up to a year.

  • Use strong passwords for all your accounts.
    A strong password needs to be unique to each account. Try not to use the same one for different accounts like your email, bank account and insurance. A strong password should also be at least 12 characters long and not use any of your personal information. That means do not use your street address or pet’s name.

  • Keep paper documents safe. Or go paperless.
    If you keep paper financial records, it’s vital you only keep what’s necessary – and that it’s kept securely. Safely shred any statements and receipts you don’t need. If possible, we recommend you switch to paperless statements – the less paper lying around, the less chance your sensitive details fall into the wrong hands.

  • Cancel and report lost or stolen cards and other ID documents.
    If your card, passbook or chequebook has been stolen, report it immediately. We have a guide to reporting your card lost or stolen and a guide to cancelling your chequebook available. If your passport, driving licence or other ID document is lost or stolen, please report it to the organisation it’s from straightaway. And make sure that bank cards and chequebooks are kept away from shared or communal spaces whenever possible.

  • Never unnecessarily share or give out your personal details.
    This includes your account number, sort code, PIN, password, card reader passcodes and any one-time codes. When giving out your account number and sort code to receive a payment, make sure you’re giving it to a trustworthy person. And never share your PIN with anyone.

  • Be wary when using your card in public.
    Whether you're using your phone or you're online in a public place, check you aren’t being listened to or that people can see your information.

  • Check your credit report regularly.
    There are lots of credit reference agencies available. Some are free and some will email you regular updates. Apart from it being a good habit to get into, checking your credit score can help keep you safe. Unexpected credit agreements, surprise loans or a sudden drop in your credit score are tell-tale signs that you’re a victim of identity fraud. Examples include Experian (opens in a new window), Equifax (opens in a new window) and ClearScore (opens in a new window).

What to do if you're a victim of identity fraud

Call us straight away if you believe you've been a victim of identity theft or identity fraud.

Report current account fraud immediately

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Report credit card fraud immediately

Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Victim Support

Our partnership with this independent charity supports customers who’ve been a victim of fraud or a scam. They offer a tailored service to meet your individual needs. It’s free, non-judgemental and confidential. And they will help you for as long as you need.

The Nationwide Fraud team will refer you for further support if you need it.

Stop. Challenge. Protect

We're proud to be supporting the industry fraud awareness campaign Take Five, which encourages you to perfect the art of saying NO to criminals by taking five minutes to Stop, Challenge, Protect.

Criminals are experts at impersonating people, organisations and the police so it can be difficult to spot scam texts, emails and phone calls. However, there are things we can all do to protect ourselves.

Always remember to challenge if someone contacts you asking for your personal or financial information – be direct and say NO. Saying NO can feel uncomfortable but it’s OK to reject, refuse or ignore requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.

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