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ID Fraudsters are Lurking in the Technosphere, Here's How to Give Them the Slip

26/07/2016 11:26 | Updated 26 July 2016

While we've been burning through hour after hour scrolling memes on Facebook, the identity thieves of this world have been getting organised.

And it's to the social media battlefield that they've brought the war. On Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where we live, love, learn and squabble, our personal details are being squirrelled away for someone else's winter.

There's almost nothing that you can't do on today's mobiles - it's a well rehearsed line. Watching films, reading newspapers, tweeting, networking: it's all fair game if you've got a smartphone in your hand.

The once humble portable phone is morphing into a mobile wallet, allowing users to pay for goods and shop until we drop without cash - or until the battery dies. But with all this convenience comes a need for greater security.

According to fraud prevention service Cifas, identity fraud was up 57% in 2015. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, they said, had become a "hunting ground" for identity thieves. The 94,500 UK victims in 2014 had rocketed up to a staggering 148,000 for last year.

Occasionally, identities are fabricated altogether but, for the most part, thieves find personal information on social media (a more popular method than hacking) and use it to piece together profiles.

So how do we protect ourselves? Unfortunately there's no silver bullet - the most effective way to go about it is to layer on security measures, creating a protective digital blanket around the really important stuff.

But layers are tricky - no one wants to spend hours keying in passwords and answering security questions. That's why so many financial services companies are working on voice recognition technology and other more efficient identification functions (BBC figures say financial fraud losses came to a cool £755 million last year). It's no wonder, then, that Atom Bank have launched authentication by selfie.

Before the age of shop floor face-scanning arrives, though, there are plenty of precautions you can take to keep your details safe.

First things first, check your security settings. If you don't have the right privacy measures in place on social media, for example, you might as well hand over your National Insurance card.

Make sure you've set up a passcode or fingerprint ID to unlock your phone - it won't make your handset totally impenetrable but it does add an extra layer of privacy and protection, and may buy you a little extra time to block your handset with your network before a thief can rack up unauthorised calls.

Watch out for public Wi-Fi. It's thrifty in terms of keeping your data usage to a minimum, but it's less secure. Never type in sensitive information like bank details while you're using it.

It's also a good idea to keep your operating system updated. You might not be hugely bothered by miniscule design changes these updates offer, but each development will most likely provide you with improved security.

The Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager apps on your handset allow you to remotely erase your personal data if it falls into the wrong hands, and track your device too. They're eternally handy, and can be set up in minutes.

And how about going back to basics? Where do you normally keep your phone when you're on the move? Are you a back-pocket-of-the-jeans kind of character, or do you like your smartphone to peep enticingly out of your jacket? Those are almost definitely the worst options from a safety perspective. Go for a bag with a zip or a crafty inside coat pocket instead.

Have a look at the Get Safe Online campaign. It gives free advice on - you guessed it - getting safe online, and urges people not to give away details like phone numbers, dates of birth, addresses and pictures of their workplaces or schools.

And I'd like to leave you with a golden oldie. SplashData, which collects passwords from data breaches in America and Western Europe, revealed (to no one's surprise) that '123456' has been the most popular password in those regions for five years running.

Steer clear of the options below, don't use the same password for every login...

  • password
  • qwerty
  • 12345
  • football
  • starwars

...And you'll be laughing.

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