Earlier this year, Spain’s National Police Agency smashed a crime ring that used identity theft to target victims’ bank accounts, according to one media report. It revealed that criminals posed as bank employees and used fake messages to obtain personal information and bank details of those they contacted.
Of course, stealing people’s identity is not only happening in Spain. If you live in Germany, you may already know that scammers have been impersonating Europol officers in a bid to steal private data. Furthermore, a report by Dutch News in December 2021 showed that the Netherlands had experienced a surge in identity fraud in the 12 months leading up to the article.
All of these are depressing reminders that even with the soaring cost of living, criminals in Europe are as busy as ever looking for ways to steal your money, and increasingly, your personal data. Read on to find out why you need to be on your guard against identity theft and five effective ways to protect your personal data.
Identity theft is where personal details are stolen to commit fraud
Criminals are increasingly looking to steal personal data so that they can use it to commit fraud and other crimes. This might be to take control of your bank accounts to steal your money, or to buy goods and services under your name.
Other crimes that fraudsters might try to use your identity for, include:
- Debit card or credit card fraud
- Falsely obtaining genuine documents such as passports and driving licences
- Fraudulently taking out a mortgage or loan in your name
- Opening bank accounts
- Taking out mobile phone contracts.
One of the biggest problems with identity theft is that it may not be immediately noticeable. You may not realise it’s happened until you receive a final demand or invoice for the goods or services bought by the criminals.
If you do have your personal details stolen and used by criminals, it can be extremely upsetting and time-consuming to sort out. In the worst case scenario, it may result in you losing money and potentially make it difficult for you to obtain loans, credit cards or a mortgage until the matter is resolved.
As you can see, having your identity stolen could result in a major headache, so let’s look at ways you could help protect your personal data and identity from thieves.
1. Don’t throw sensitive documents into the waste
If you want to dispose of old bank statements or other sensitive information, be very careful. Criminals sometimes rummage through garbage to find personal documents that they can use to commit fraud.
While you should always shred documents with sensitive information on them, it’s worth remembering that some criminals are prepared to piece the shreds back together. That’s why you may want to consider a paper shredder that cuts across documents as well, so that criminals cannot do this.
2. Be wary about providing personal information
If you receive an unsolicited email, phone call or message purporting to be from a trusted organisation always treat it with suspicion. Never provide your full password, login details or account numbers if asked for them.
Always keep in mind that banks will never ask for your PIN, your password, or your security number in full.
If you are worried the call is a scam, hang up and call them on a number that you know to be authentic. Don’t use any number that the caller provides, and make sure there is a dial tone before you dial the genuine number.
3. Treat requests for help with scepticism
If you are contacted by phone, text or social media by friends or family asking for financial help, take steps to ensure it’s really them. If it’s a scam, your friend or family member may also be the victim of identity theft, so checking with them could help bring it to their attention.
4. Be diligent when shopping online
If you’re shopping online, make sure the URL is correct and that it has https at the start. Also look for the small padlock as this means the website is secure. If any of these are missing, you could be at risk of providing sensitive information or your bank details to criminals.
5. Question if something unexpected happens
If you suddenly stop receiving statements from your bank or credit card company, or receive letters about debts or goods that you know nothing about, don’t ignore it. Contact your bank and whoever the letter or receipt is from, then contact the police or relevant authority.
Another red flag might be if you’re turned down for a financial product despite having a good rating. If this happens, you might want to consider carrying out a credit check on yourself, as this could confirm that someone is creating debts in your name.
Get in touch
Please remember that this is not a comprehensive list of precautions you could take to protect your wealth from criminals. If you are interested in talking to someone about your pension or possible investments, for example, care must be taken to ensure that you’re talking to a bona fide and reputable company.
As highly regarded specialists helping expats in Europe, we would be happy to discuss your retirement strategy and any investments you might be interested in. We can be contacted by email on [email protected] and we’d be happy to discuss your situation further.
This article is for information only. Please do not take action that is based on anything you read in this article until you have sought professional advice.
The value of your investments (and any income from them) can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investments should be considered over the longer term and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances.