Company Directors Hijacked - Can Identity Theft Be Stopped
by Jo Shaer, on June 1, 2016
I was sitting in the reception area of my accountants last week waiting to approve my annual return. I was early but, rather than check my emails, I noticed a copy of Which? magazine on the nearby table with a headline which caught my eye.
How identity theft happens online
It was all about how Which? researchers had managed to successfully apply for credit cards and mortgages using personal information taken from the internet - and, in particular, social media profiles.
Of the EIGHT volunteers featured, the Which? was able to discover the date of birth, home address and phone number for THREE of them and two of those three pieces of information for another THREE and one personal detail for the remaining TWO.
It was really quite alarming. In the same way that you can use the internet to research your own family history, online scammers can use those same services to steal your identity and access credit in your name.
Who does identity theft happen to?
According to a report from 2009 by the OFT and the University of Portsmouth, those most at risk of identity theft/fraud are:
- individuals aged 26-45 years old
- working in a professional occupation
- owner occupiers (usually in a detached house)
- earning over £50,000 - these are 3 times more likely to be victims), and
- Directors of companies
Can Company Directors prevent identity theft?
The Which? article also highlighted that Company Directors are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because of the information that they have to register with Companies House. Things like middle names and month and year of birth, along with a home address.
Combining this with personal details added to social media profiles equates to a large 'digital footprint' that can be a rich vein of data for fraudsters.
So how can Company Directors minimise their online risk?
Which? say that you don't have to give your home address as a correspondence address at Companies House. Consistently using a residential address throughout your career can produce a 'comprehensive address history' over two or three decades - something which is often asked for when completing a financial form. These addresses can then be checked against the Electoral Roll to confirm marital status and number of children.
Companies House advise that you can use a service address which can be that of your solicitor or accountant so they receive any correspondence relating to the Company.
To see what Companies House currently says about you, go here and enter your name.
Many Company Directors are also active fundraisers for charities but, again, the biggest mistake is registering your home address with the Charity Commission. They say that it is perfectly acceptable to use the business address of the charity's solicitor or other professional as a correspondence address.
Can identity theft be stopped? Edit your social media profiles
LinkedIn's advice has always been that it is important to complete as many fields of your personal profile as possible with as much information as you can so as to reach an All Star profile.
However, as a result of this article, my advice for Company Directors on completing your social media profile information is as follows:
- do not include your maiden name on LinkedIn (or Facebook) unless it is absolutely necessary; this allows scammers to check you out on genealogy websites and, if they also have your year of birth, they can access your birth certificate to discover your mother's maiden name.
- do not add the start and finish dates that you attended schools or universities in the Education section of your LinkedIn profile. I did try not completing the Education section at all but this reduced my profile status from All Star to Expert. So I would advocate adding the names of these institutions and what subjects you covered. Removing the dates means that you still get All Star status but the scammers cannot work out your year of birth from that information and then use genealogy websites to find more info.
- do not show your birthday on LinkedIn or on Facebook.
- be aware that, even if you do not publish your date of birth on Facebook, if your profile is still set to public or if you have mistakenly added a scammer as a friend, they will be able to see any birthday wishes and work it out for themselves.
- if you work from home, do not publish your job and employer details on Facebook or LinkedIn or your website - with all the information listed above, a fraudster could apply for a birth certificate.
Don't get your identity stolen! Follow these tips from @lollipoplocal
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In an age where privacy barriers are being broken down at an ever-alarming rate, it pays to keep an eye on what you are sharing. MoneySavingsExpert.com give advice on how you can check to ensure that you are not already a victim of identity theft.
Preventing Corporate Identity Theft
You should also be aware that corporate identity theft is also a very common problem - find out more about how to stop this here.
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