Identity fraud in the online age

In 2016, Cifas – the UK’s fraud prevention service – produced an exploration of the UK’s main fraud trends which identified identity fraud as one of today’s biggest concerns, making up 53% of all frauds committed, 86% of which were committed online. As our everyday lives are increasingly linked to the online world, our methods of recognising and protecting ourselves from identity fraud attempts must evolve.

Identity Fraud – the basics

The Met Police define identity fraud as “the misuse of identity information to commit a crime”. Stolen identity information is used to obtain goods or services, such as a bank account or a passport, or to take over existing accounts. Additionally it can be used to enable other frauds and crimes. Identity fraud is growing in popularity as it allows fraudsters to pass checks that they would not under a fictitious identity, and also can go undetected by the victim for some time.

Methods and Protection


A type of cybercrime designed to trick individuals into disclosing confidential data and personal details. This is typically via an email or website designed to appear to belong to a legitimate company which prompts users to enter personal details or login details, or to open links and attachments.


Avoid entering any personal details or passwords into emails or websites accessed through them. Banks and most companies will never ask you to give them PIN numbers or passwords directly over the phone or in an email. The email address and spelling can be good indicators of whether an email is legitimate.


Where personal information is gathered through malware or viruses (possibly installed from a phishing email or website) or intercepted by a third party.


Having up-to-date anti-virus software installed on devices and avoiding accessing sensitive data, such as bank accounts, over public wi-fi.

Social media

Many people have enough information on their social media to allow fraudsters to piece together the rest of their identity.


Ensuring privacy settings only show information to known people, or removing data such as date of birth and telephone number.

Further advice

Reporting unusual activity quickly is key to preventing further identity fraud and potentially recuperating any losses. This includes the loss or theft of documents as well as any fraudulent activity. Action Fraud is operated by the City of London police, while can provide advice to those affected.

Individuals should still protect against their personal information being stolen via more “traditional” methods. This includes shredding documents before disposing of them, redirecting mail for up to a year after moving home, checking their personal credit file, and ensuring all expected mail containing personal information arrives or is reported as missing.