A UK-based campaign, spearheaded by Fellowes, has highlighted that over 21 million of the country’s households are vulnerable because people aren’t doing enough to protect their identity.
The National Identity Fraud Prevention Week warned the British public to do more to safeguard themselves.
Research released during the nationwide promotion revealed more people than ever are putting themselves at risk of becoming victims, despite previous awareness campaigns warning them of the dangers.
The programme, which is in its second year, ran through mid-October and was aimed at reducing personal security complacency and helping to educate the public on ways to protect themselves and fight identity fraud.
An expert group of public and private sector partners, including the Government, the Metropolitan Police and the UK’s Federation of Small Businesses, supported the awareness drive.
A bin-raiding research report, commissioned by Fellowes for the campaign, revealed:
• More than 97 percent of households, representing over 21 million homes in the UK, regularly dispose of vital data
• At least 30 percent had thrown away their whole credit/debit card number
• An estimated 46 percent of households had thrown away an item that contained their bank account number and sort code and 73 percent had thrown away documents with their name exactly as it appears on a credit or debit card
• An alarming 48 percent had thrown away everything a fraudster needs to steal a person’s identity.
In addition to the Fellowes research, one of the world’s leading experts in identity fraud, Professor Martin Gill, completed a study to understand more about the motivations of identity thieves.
Professor Gill and his team at Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International (PRCI), found that offenders in this study adopted a range of approaches to commit identity fraud using paper-based documents including:
• Personal information being removed from dustbins
• Stealing personal documents as part of other crimes, eg. burglaries
• Stealing post from people’s front doorsteps
• Stealing ladies’ handbags and men’s wallets
• Impersonating the dead, using birth certificates of the deceased
• Redirecting post to obtain people’s personal details.
The study also showed that documents featuring personal details proved valuable to identity fraudsters who used the stolen identities to apply for credit cards, mobile phone contracts and, in some circumstances, for higher level fraudulent activities, such as opening bank accounts. These documents were also vital in helping offenders to ‘prove’ and confirm who they said they were.
The study involved interviewing a sample of offenders and victims. Their accounts provided useful insights and ideas into ways of reducing the opportunities to commit paper-based identity fraud.
These included the need to raise public awareness on the breadth of paper-based identity fraud as well as making the general public aware of the importance of safeguarding their own identity.
In addition, the public was urged to shred documents containing personal details, as well as securing letterboxes.
Credit providers and similar organisations were also urged to introduce more stringent processes when verifying personal applications.
As part of the national drive, the campaign launched a dedicated website at www.stop-idfraud.co.uk, complete with a ‘Are You At Risk’ test – and put in place a freephone number that members of the public could call to receive a free Protecting Your Identity guide.
Tyron Hill, marketing director at Fellowes and National Identity Fraud Prevention Week spokesperson, said: "People spend thousands of pounds protecting their homes against burglary – from top-of-the-range locks to lighting systems and alarms. However, this research shows that virtually everyone in this country is literally handing over their identity to bin raiders.
"Your identity is the most important thing you have and people have got to stop being so complacent and must start to put up a fight against identity fraud.
"People need to be more vigilant – they need to check their mail, monitor their credit reports and, most importantly, they need to shred."
At the launch of the campaign, Professor Martin Gill, said: "Whilst the internet is now a widely used tool by identity thieves, the use of paper based documents containing personal information is still commonplace.
"Based on the comments from offenders and victims, it is clear that the public has to become better at taking preventative action to reduce the opportunity for identity fraud.
"Some of their suggested solutions include securing personal information and shredding documents. These are obvious ways of reducing opportunities for offenders, and it would be wise for everyone to take note."