What is identity theft?

Stealing a purse out of a handbag at a platform

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information or possessions so they can use your identity.

Identity fraud is when they use your identity for their own financial gain – usually at a great cost to you.

You might not even realise that your information has been stolen until after the fraud has happened and only find out when a bill arrives for something you didn't buy, or when you have trouble taking out a credit card or a mobile phone contract.

According to research from Experian's Victims of Fraud team, it takes an average of 292 days for people to discover their information has been used for fraudulent purposes.

5 common ways fraudsters can steal your identity

Common theft

You could be burgled and have your personal possessions taken, for example your purse containing your ID.


Fraudsters call you pretending to be a genuine business and mislead you into giving away personal and financial information.


Software is used to hack into your computer, or information is taken from your smartphone.


Fraudsters send an email that appears to be from a trusted company, getting you to click a link and enter personal information, such as your banking details.

Data breach

Customer information could be stolen from a service provider. There have been a number of high-profile data breaches in recent years.

Only have 2 minutes? Watch our video on how Identity Fraud can affect you.

How identity theft could affect you

Having your identity stolen and used fraudulently can hit your finances hard. Fraudsters could take money from your bank account or get credit in your name.

Their actions can also make your Data Self look bad. This is the version of you that companies see – it’s made up of your credit history and other information, and it helps them understand how well you manage your finances. When fraudsters use your identity, it can seem like you’re making irresponsible decisions – giving lenders a bad impression of your Data Self. This will be reflected on your credit report, and can impact your chances of getting credit, renting property, and accessing certain services in the future.

Thankfully, in most situations the effects of fraud can be reversed. But this process can take an emotional toll on you and the impact can go on for much longer than the actual fraud itself – research by Experian's Victims of Fraud team shows it can take a staggering 300 hours to set the record straight.

That's why it's important to act quickly. Your first step is to get in touch with your banks and lenders – they'll work with you to resolve the issues and, if necessary, will contact the police on your behalf. Next, get in touch with us. We’ll help you clear your Experian Credit Report and get your Data Self back to normal.

Read more about the steps you need to take if you're a victim of fraud.

Protect yourself against identity theft

There are many ways fraudsters can get hold of your information, but lots of good habits that can protect you. Here are our top three tips:

  1. Never respond to unsolicited emails and phone calls
  2. Use different passwords for different accounts – particularly for your email account and online banking
  3. Use strong passwords made up of three random words – you can add in numbers and symbols, and use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters if you want

Learn more about protecting your Data Self against fraud.

One of the best things you can do is understand the early warning signs, so that, if you do become a victim, you can act fast to help avoid the fraud becoming more severe.

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