The number of people in the UK falling victim to identity fraud has more than doubled in a single year, and researchers say social media such as Facebook could be to blame.
A study of data by fraud prevention company Cifas has found that the number of reported cases of identity fraud jumped by 57 per cent between 2014 and 2015.
Drawing from its reporting database of 261 organisations, Cifas found that 148,463 people reported having their identity stolen in 2015, up from 94,492 the previous year.
As banks and other large groups are making the theft of data more difficult Cifas warns that social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are becoming a “hunting ground” for fraudsters.
For identity fraud to work the criminals need access to key data about a victim such as name, address, date of birth and bank details. With this information they can buy products and take out credit lines in the victim’s name.
While previously much data was stolen through hacking and data loss, increasingly criminals are putting together profiles of their victims using information harvested from the “goldmine” of social media. And while false identities are still used, the number is dropping - in 2015 96.6 per cent of fraud used genuine identities.
Simon Dukes, chief executive of Cifas, said: “Fraudsters are opportunists. As banks and lenders have become more adept at detecting false identities, fraudsters have focused on stealing and using genuine people’s details instead.
“Society, government and industry all have a role in preventing fraud, however our concern is that the lack of awareness about identity fraud is making it even easier for fraudsters to obtain the information they need.
“The likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other online platforms are much more than just social media sites - they are now a hunting ground for identity thieves.
“We are urging people to check their privacy settings today and think twice about what they share.
“Social media is fantastic and the way we live our lives online gives us huge opportunities. Taking a few simple steps will help us to enjoy the benefits while reducing the risks. To a fraudster, the information we put online is a goldmine.”
Eight-five per cent of all identity fraud last year was committed online and, according to Cifas, many people don’t realise they have been targeted until they receive a bill for something they didn’t purchase or encounter problems with their credit rating.
To show how vulnerable users are to data theft Cifas has released a video of cafe customers being confronted with their personal data scrawled on a coffee cup.
With the promise of a free coffee, participants were asked to ‘like’ the cafe’s Facebook page. A team of researchers, within a maximum of three minutes, searched across public websites to find as much personal information as possible. That data was then radioed through to a barista, who wrote it on to a cup and handed it to the unsuspecting customer. Hidden cameras captured their ‘baffled’ reactions and the film has now gone online.
Social media personal information safety advice
Facebook offer tips and safety advice on privacy settings here.
Twitter has advice on protecting your personal information here.