How to prevent your ID being stolen

Oct 21, 2020 | Tony Byrne's View

I had my ID stolen about five years ago.  It is embarrassing to admit it as an experienced financial planner.  How could it have happened?

Well, ironically I thought I had taken all of the practical steps possible to minimise if not eliminate, the possibility of ID theft but somehow the perpetrator found a way to impersonate me.  I remain convinced my ID was stolen from intercepting my post at a previous postal address of mine rather than from an online theft.  Why is that?  Well, the name used was Tony Byrne whereas I always use my full name of Anthony William Byrne for any formal documentation.  Also, my home address used was the very same previous postal address of mine.  I used to live in a block of apartments.  There is a communal area of post boxes.  It would have been quite easy to simply slide a hand into my letterbox, remove the private post and find personal data on me.  

The thief opened three bank accounts in my name with TSB Bank online.  I received bank statements that were sent to my previous postal address. At the time I didn’t even have a bank account with TSB.  I went to my local branch, informed them of the fraud and the accounts were closed.  As one of the accounts was overdrawn TSB took a hit on that account.  My credit record was briefly affected but it was soon restored to good order.

I notified the police and I registered my ID theft with CIFAS which is the UK’s largest cross-sector fraud sharing database, CIFAS is a not-for-profit organisation working to reduce and prevent fraud and financial crime in the UK.

As has always been my experience in these types of crimes the police were not really interested and did very little, if anything, to solve the crime.  Get this – TSB Bank couldn’t give me any clues as to who opened the account in my name because of data protection laws.  I did find out that the account was being used for dirty money, probably drugs money.  

Guess what happened a few weeks ago?  I received a letter from TSB, I had opened an account with them following my ID theft, advising me that I had apparently applied to open another TSB account online but it was suspicious so the bank hadn’t agreed to it yet.  They asked me to ring them to answer their security questions.  Once we had done that they decided to close the account because it was obvious I hadn’t tried to open an account.  This time my full real name was used and my current address.

I went through more hassle again.  My own account was frozen by TSB and it took the bank several weeks to unfreeze it.  They hadn’t even bothered to notify me this would happen.  I had to visit the branch with my personal ID in order for them to start the process of unfreezing my account which still took them another week or so to action.  Because the member of staff serving me had to ring another number I had to wait a further 20 minutes, 30 minutes in total before they could confirm that my ID was acceptable.  I asked them to simply scan my driving licence and certify it as a copy of the original but was told they couldn’t do that!  I was puzzled because we do this regularly for our own clients and the financial institutions we deal with don’t have a problem with it.  Baffling.  

What was surprising was to discover from the teller that if you open an account with TSB online the bank asks fewer questions so what happens as a result?  More fraudulent bank account applications occur of course!  Common sense or what?  If anything applying for an account online should be harder than face to face at the branch, not the other way around.

It’s little wonder that TSB has had a lot of IT issues.  TSB had a system upgrade instigated by their parent company Banco Sabadell which was unsuccessful and generated lots of complaints from their customers.  Again I find this truly puzzling.  High Street banks like the TSB really need to get their place in order.

So how was it possible for someone to apply to open an account in my name fraudulently and nearly get away with it?  Well, somehow they were able to discover my full name, address and date of birth.  To my knowledge, I do not disclose my address or date of birth publicly.  A search at Companies House will reveal my full name and the month and year of my birth but not the day of the month I was born and nothing else.  I do not give my date of birth on social media either.  There probably is a way for someone to find out all of this data about me online which is why I am convinced this attempt to open an account in my name was from the Internet.

I was very fortunate because when I went to the TSB branch to report the first fraud five years ago the person who served me, Cholpon, who eventually became my wife four years later!  It just goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining.

So the lesson here is to not disclose all of your personal data online unless it is to a very reliable and secure organisation.  You know it makes sense*.

* The contents of this blog are for information purposes only and do not constitute individual advice. All information contained in this article is based on our current understanding of taxation, legislation and regulations in the current tax year. Any levels and bases of and reliefs from taxation are subject to change. Tax treatment is based on individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future. Although endeavours have been made to provide accurate and timely information, we cannot guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

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