Although Identity Theft is quite commonplace now, when it happened to me several years ago, no one really knew much about the crime. In fact I later discovered that I was the first major victim of the crime in the UK.
As a result of the crime I lost everything and became penniless and homeless.
When it happened, I had to convince the Police – as well as all the companies to which I allegedly owed money – that I was me, and not the person pretending to be me.
Someone had used my name to ring up thousands of pounds worth of bad debts. This gave me a bad credit-rating which meant I couldn’t get a mortgage, couldn’t get a credit card and couldn’t open a bank account.
It took me over two years to clear my name and I am still suffering the consequences.
A few years after this happened, as some kind of cathartic exercise, I wrote a comedy show about the experience (as comedians do). As a result of the show I was asked to be the guest speaker at Security/IT/Fraud Conventions in, amongst other places: Italy, Poland and Australia. I was also asked by Channel 4 if I would like to make a documentary on the subject.
In the documentary, How To Steal An Identity, I proved how easy a crime ID theft is to carry out by firstly going through someone’s rubbish at 1 o’clock in the morning (they had thrown away bank statements and other personal information with which I opened accounts in their name) and then setting up a stall in a Shopping Centre and telling people that I could stop them from having their identity stolen if they gave me their personal details. Which they did (if you want to have a look at it, it’s here ).
The other thing I did in the programme was to steal the identity of the Home Secretary – for which I was subsequently arrested in a dawn raid by Scotland Yard
Still at least I proved my point, which is that Identity Theft is a very easy crime to carry out. Oh and because of the loophole I found, the Driving Licence Application Form had to be changed. You’re welcome.
At a recent corporate event I was asked what people could do to stop them from having their identities stolen. I replied “nothing.” Needless to say, that didn’t go down too well.
Of course there are preventative measures; shredding documents, not giving out information unless you are positive of the source, keeping your PIN safe, having regular credit reports etc. And in the vast majority of cases these will suffice. Yet, as I have proven several times, if I really wanted to steal someone’s identity I probably could.
However, as I have already been arrested for it once, I am now looking into alternative hobbies.
With the advent of social websites like Facebook, fraudsters now have a new way of gaining personal information because as well as letting their families and friends know what they’re up to or what mood they’re in, people have a tendency to add their address, date of birth and information as to where and when they are going away on holiday!
But it’s not only down to the individual; banks, shops, mobile phone companies etc should not just be taking on new customers without having the correct infrastructure in place. I have campaigned about this to the government – although I’m probably not in their best books – as well as campaigning to make companies more stringent in their screening processes. It’s too easy just to take on new clients and deal with any consequences of fraud later.
Having your identity stolen is not a victimless crime. It’s far from it. And having a bad credit rating can cause endless problems.
But don’t take my word for it, ask Bennett Arron….
Bennett’s new book; Heard The One About Identity Theft? is available here.