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Tony Levene is a renowned financial journalist, who has previously been a columnist for Guardian Money. He has written several books, including 'Investing for Dummies' and won the ABI Lifetime Achievement award and the Headline Money award.


Protect your identity - and protect your money

Look around you when there are people about. One in 25 adults you see are likely to be the victim of identity theft.

By stealing personal details such as name, address, phone numbers, bank and credit card details, criminals can use your identity to loot your bank account, get loans and run up bills on your credit cards. Many will even hijack your identity to obtain driving licences and passports – key documents in money laundering and illegal immigration rackets.

The one in 25 figure is based on National Fraud Authority statistics (published in October 2010). It believes 1.8 million adults had identities stolen in the previous year, losing over £2.7billion or around £1,500 per victim.

That's the pure monetary loss – it ignores victims' worry and stress. A stolen identity can mean a freeze on your money, debt collectors at your door and difficulty with new loans or mobile phone contracts.

Identity theft has exploded with the growth of online business. There are illegal sites where criminals swap or sell credit card details knowing perpetrators out of sight in a far-off internet cafe can pose as anyone.

No security is guaranteed 100%. But if you leave windows open and doors unlocked, then don't be too surprised if you become a victim. So there are some obvious “don't do's.”

  • Leaving old bank statements in a bin liner or recycling bin is asking for trouble – a shredder is cheap and many find, satisfying to use!
  • Offering personal details in an email – unless you’re 100% sure you know the recipient – is a bad move. Never respond to “phishing” emails, apparently from banks, which demand personal security details. No legitimate bank ever does this – and emails apparently from the taxman offering a rebate if you send identity details are equally fraudulent.
  • Always log out of secure websites as soon as you finish. Internet cafés or public broadband in a restaurant are not safe - you never know who else might gain access to your data.
  • Safeguard yourself from attacks by key-logging software – “spyware” can capture every keystroke, even mouse moves. Many keystroke programs automatically look for 16 figure numbers – almost certainly a debit or credit card – and add these to other data they find. Invest in up to date firewalls and anti-virus software.

Quotation MarksIdentity theft has exploded with the growth of
online business.Quotation Marks

  • Take care with passwords - Don't use the same password for everything. Instead, work out your own system, perhaps using a mix of the website name and your mother's maiden name. Add a number – if you use a memorable year, reverse it (otherwise most will start
    with 19, or 20).
  • And if someone phones, claiming to be from your bank, always return the call using the bank's published numbers if you have any grounds
    to be suspicious.

If financial or other paperwork goes missing, or you notice unexplained entries on accounts, you could be a victim. Tell the police, your banking and credit card providers and one of the three credit reference agencies – Callcredit, Equifax or Experian.

Some insurance providers sell ID theft insurance as part of their home insurance offerings,  It’s worth checking your home insurance policy to see if you already have this and if not, consider whether you might need it.

If your details are stolen either online or physically – perhaps after a burglary – or you fear there might be a problem, consider signing up to the CIFAS (the UK Fraud Prevention Service) protective registrar which costs around £15 a year. This can prevent attacks or give you an early warning because an alert will be flagged when you apply for credit.

For more details go to

John Lewis Home Insurance homepage

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This article was written by Tony Levene and any opinions are his independent view and not the opinion of John Lewis Insurance or the John Lewis Partnership. 

Terms, conditions, limitations, exclusions and acceptance criteria apply.

John Lewis Insurance is a trading name of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England (No. 233462). John Lewis plc is an appointed representative of Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance plc. John Lewis Home Insurance is underwritten by Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance plc (No. 93792). Registered in England and Wales at St. Mark's Court, Chart Way, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1XL. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority (Financial Services Register No. 202323). Calls may be recorded and monitored.

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