Identity theft - whereby your personal information is stolen and used by a fraudster - is on the increase. And so, too, is worry about financial security - according to a recent survey, concerns about identity theft are near the top of things we're all increasingly losing sleep over.
Stolen personal information is used to take out mobile phone contracts, to apply for credit cards or loans, and to apply for benefits or order goods in your name.
Sometimes, the information is used to obtain documents such as passports and driving licences.
What you can do to avoid identity theft
The best way to combat identity theft is to be on top of your finances, especially your current account(s) and credit cards.
"Identity fraud is no small matter and is ever more common online. Staying on top of your finances is vital." onimolap
This means checking your accounts frequently, either online or when a paper statement is sent through the post, and being aware of what should be going in and out of your accounts.
Be wary of letters, phone calls or emails offering you deals out of the blue. Be particularly doubtful of any email puporting to be from a financial institution you deal with which asks you for any personal or account information.
Another way to avoid identity theft is to change your passwords frequently - and to use different log-ins and passwords across many websites.
"I don't think identity theft insurance is worth it, personally. I think that with some simple precautions, you can protect yourself against identity fraud. Shredding utility bills and statements. Being discriminating about using your card online. If you monitor your accounts and check statements carefully, you can be on top of any suspicious transactions. Credit card transactions already have various protections built in. Plus, if your account is compromised, the banks are pretty good at dealing with it." Chil234
Online safety tips
Make sure you use a secure website if you're going to be entering credit card information. Look for a padlock symbol in the bottom right of the browser window (it must be in the browser frame and not simply on the web page). Follow this up by clicking on the padlock symbol to ensure that the certificate is current and registered to the right address.
You should only ever enter card details on a site where the website address begins with https:// instead of http:// (ie it's the 's' for 'secure' you're looking for).
Keep your passwords and information safe by ensuring your computer is free from viruses or hacking software or spyware. You should get up-to-date anti-virus software installed, use a firewall and resist the temptation to ignore those prompts to install software updates.
Phishing refers to a technique used by fraudsters whereby they email you, pretending to be from a reputable company or financial institution, and attempt to persuade you to reveal information, such as bank account details, passwords or customer information, which they can then use to defraud you.
If the email doesn't include your name, but is addressed to 'Dear Customer' that's usually a strong hint that it isn't kosher, but they can sometimes be very convincing.
The best way to protect yourself against phishing is to be deeply suspicious of any unsolicited email that comes in purporting to be from a reputatable institution. Be assured that your bank, for example, would never contact you and ask you to reconfirm important details through a link in an email. If you want to use internet banking, use the address bar to key in the bank's url yourself.
Effects of identity theft
Banks are very hot on attempts to defraud you - often they notice a pattern of erratic or unusual spending before you do, and alert you to it.
But if you do become a victim of identity theft, you can end up being locked out of your bank accounts until the matter is resolved. The bank will usually cover any losses you incur, but it's still extremely inconvenient (and worrying) to find you can't access your money.
What to do if you're a victim of identity theft
The main thing is to act quickly. Contact your bank or credit card company as soon as you can. Click on the Fraud Action website to report the incident - and if someone has had your mail redirected to another address, contact Royal Mail.
Disclaimer: Any content in our family money section is intended as general information only. For specific advice about your personal financial situation, get advice from qualified, independent, regulated professionals.