People are mugs over identity theft

Social network data makes life too easy for fraudsters

Social network data makes life too easy for fraudsters

Identity theft is rife. Perhaps it's time individuals took a leaf out of business's book and adopted a personal information policy that will make life harder for criminals, says Simon Moores.

I understand beards are back. That news may well find favour beyond the present generation of Linux programmers and the traditional Information Taliban. But it will take a lot more than a little facial hair, a baseball cap or a hoodie to conceal one's identity from today's intrusive society.

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There are already signs that spreading every minor detail about one's personal life across the internet may be on the wane as a lifestyle choice, at least among the over-25s.

With identity theft now rife and rising steadily, keeping one's online personal information to an absolute minimum looks increasingly important.

Large businesses use services to monitor corporate reputation. A need may now exist for a similar model for individuals, to measure personal reputation and exposure on the internet and also link into credit ratings.

At last month's e-Crime Congress in London we heard how criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in targeting individuals in the lucrative game of identity theft.

Criminals can call on directed phishing attacks using the simple expedients of ransacking rubbish bags and using Google to look for useful information on social networking sites and generally sprayed across the internet.

According to the Directgov website, "Identity theft affects more than 100,000 people every year" and victims are invariably ordinary people who are less likely to be aware the theft has happened or take swift action to deal with the problem until it's far too late.

Identity theft has become astonishingly easy for criminals. I recently met an individual who had experienced the unfortunate consequences. He was an electrician whose life had been shattered by an experience that involved a criminal cloning his identity to commit a number of frauds.

The first he knew of it was a summons to court in Birmingham - he lived in London. What followed was a tortuously unsympathetic process that involved trying to prove that he had not committed a series of criminal offences in the Midlands.

If you have ever attempted to report an internet-related crime at your local police station, you can imagine how the civilian assistant - it's unlikely you'll see a police officer - will react to your claiming from behind a reinforced window that you are not actually the serial offender whose criminal record is in your name.

The Bebo-obsessed young are naturally profligate with their personal information because at the age of 16 or less, one has little or nothing of real worth to risk in the broader world that exists outside a small group of friends.

But age and even a page on Facebook may attract a growing risk to both one's reputation and financial assets and more and more of us are placing these in danger on the internet - easy pickings for an army of fraudsters.

What we need, other than the exercise of common sense, is to adopt a more universal view of the dangers of unrestricted personal information flow than simply have government warn us all to use paper shredders and regularly check our credit ratings.

Perhaps it's time to consider having a personal information policy that restricts as much as possible what we reveal about our lives on the web and reintroducing anonymity, like the beard, as a fashionable virtue.