This article grew out of a reader’s question. Mrs J, asked:
Since February my husband has started to receive letters from WageDay Advance, Satsuma and QuickQuid saying that he has loans with them that need repaying. He doesn’t have any loans. We have sent Prove It letters to all three. We have now had letters saying that WageDay Advance and QuickQuid have passed the account to debt collectors.
In addition, he has now had a letter from Visa Vanquis saying that he has an unpaid credit card. He doesn’t have an account with them. On speaking to them, it seems that the account number doesn’t exist and that it will be sorted out at their end.
Along with the Prove It letters (sent by recorded delivery), my husband has also phoned WageDay Advance, Satsuma and QuickQuid telling them that the debts are not his.
They have not proved that the debts are his but they keep sending letters. The debts appear on his Experian credit record. I dread the post arriving every day. Why is this happening? Do you have any advice about what we should do? It’s really starting to get us down.
This sounds like identity theft – someone has got hold of Mr J’s details and is using them to apply for credit in his name.
Your experience may be different – identity theft cases can be quite individual. But the prinicples about what you need to do are common.
Ways you may find out you have been a victim
There are other ways you can find out about identity theft:
- a debt collector may contact you about a debt you don’t recognise;
- you may find debts you don’t recognise on your credit files;
- you may be declined for credit or a mortgage;
- your bank may suddenly close your account where you have had no problems.
Not all of those will turn out to be identity theft.
Sometimes the debt you didn’t know about was yours (a parking ticket or an old bill sent to a previous address?). Sometimes there has been a “mistrace”, when someone else’s debt has been wrongly linked to your name. But they all need to be investigated.
Identity theft is an increasing problem
Identity theft is happening a lot more in Britain. In 2019 it went up 18% to 223,000 cases – and those were just the ones that were identified.
And it’s depressingly rare that the criminals are caught even when the police take it seriously, as this story shows: Scammers set-up a Very credit account in my name and ordered £3,000 worth of goods.
Which? has some good tips on how to avoid identity theft and identity fraud.
5 steps to take when you are a victim of identity theft
Mr J has done the right things so far: sending a Prove It letter and phoning up the lenders. It is disappointing that none of the lenders seems to have actually grasped that there is a real problem here.
Here five things I suggest Mr J should do now. Some of them may turn out to not be needed, but after six months, I think going for them all is the best approach to getting this all ended as soon as possible.
1 Report identity theft to Action Fraud
Mr J should inform Action Fraud about this identity theft because it is a crime. He can do this online and he will get a Crime Reference Number (CRN).
This is unlikely to result in a police investigation, but being able to tell the lenders that you have reported this, and give them the CRN, should hopefully mean they take it more seriously.
2 Inform Experian about the identity theft
Experian have a Victims of Fraud team that can help you sort out problems – contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 0344 481 8000.
3 Check other credit records and statements
So far this has mainly been a nuisance and a worry to Mr and Mrs J. Although the scammers seem to have got enough details about Mr J to fool a new lender, they haven’t mentioned any problems with their own accounts.
But it’s good to be very careful now and for at least another year.
Mr J should check his records with all three credit reference agencies every month, see Check your credit records for free for how to do this. He is looking for any new debts or accounts he doesn’t recognise and any new addresses or associations with other people being added.
He also needs to look at his bank statements and credit card statements every month to check that there are no wrong purchases showing on there.
He could also consider changing his passwords for online and mobile access to his bank accounts and credit cards. Until something wrong shows up, this isn’t essential, but he may decide that it’s better to be totally safe.
4 Complain to all the lenders
I suggest he also makes a formal written complaint to each of the lenders, by email or letter. He should put COMPLAINT ABOUT IDENTITY THEFT as the title of the email.
These complaints need to say:
I have told you before [give dates] that I do not recognise this debt [give details of the debt on your credit record] and asked you to prove that it is mine. You have not done this and you have continued to send me letters. [add on if that the debt has been passed to a debt collector]
I have never borrowed from you. I have reported this to Action Fraud, this is my Crime Reference Number: 99999999.
I want you to do the following to put this right:
a) write me a letter accepting that the debt is not mine
b) agree that you will not sell this debt with my name on it to any third party
c) remove the debt from my name with all UK credit reference agencies
d) after this, cease to send me any more communications about this debt.
If this is not done within 8 weeks, I will be sending this complaint to the Financial Ombudsman and asking for compensation. This has been causing me and my wife a great deal of stress and you have just been ignoring me.”
If a lender doesn’t give in and correct the problem, Mr J should send his complaint to the Finanical Ombudsman and ask for compensation for the time and stress this has caused. He will need to send a separate complaint for each of the lenders.
5 Sign up for Cifas protection
Additionally, to stop any more problem debts happening, Mr J needs to sign up for protective registration at Cifas. This costs £20 for two years but I think it’s worth it.
After this has been done, when the thief tries to open a new account using Mr J’s details, the lender will see the Cifas flag and will have to contact him to ask if has applied for this credit – he can then say No.
This won’t damage Mr J’s credit score and it won’t stop Mr J himself taking out any further credit. It just means that his real applications will take a few extra days to process.
Top tip – check credit records 6 months before applying for a mortgage
You can try your best to keep your information private and be alert for phone, etc and email scams. But you can never rule it out totally.
Here is the sad story of someone who only found out about identity theft when her mortgage application was declined: ‘Having my identity stolen cost me £10,000’.
So even though you can’t stop it totally, it is good to check your credit records six months before you apply for a mortgage. Do this with all three credit reference agencies, see How to check your credit records for free. If you find a problem, you still have to sort out it out, but you avoid the costs and heartache of a house purchase falling through.