What is identity theft?

Stealing a purse out of a handbag at a platform

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information or possessions so they can use your identity.

Identity fraud is when they use your identity for their own financial gain – usually at a great cost to you.

You might not even realise that your information has been stolen until after the fraud has happened and only find out when a bill arrives for something you didn't buy, or when you have trouble taking out a credit card or a mobile phone contract.

According to research from Experian's Victims of Fraud team, it takes an average of 292 days for people to discover their information has been used for fraudulent purposes.

5 common ways fraudsters can steal your identity

Common theft

You could be burgled and have your personal possessions taken, for example your purse containing your ID.


Fraudsters call you pretending to be a genuine business and mislead you into giving away personal and financial information.


Software is deployed to hack into your computer or information is taken from your smartphone.


Fraudsters send an email that appears to be from a trusted company to get you to click a link and enter your personal information, such as your banking details.

Data breach

Customer information could be stolen from a service provider. There have been a number of high-profile data breaches in recent years.

Only have 2 minutes? Watch our video on how Identity Fraud can affect you.

How identity theft could affect you

Having your identity stolen and used fraudulently can hit your finances hard. Fraudsters could take money from your bank account or they could take out credit in your name. Their actions can hurt your credit score and affect your chances of getting credit in the future.

Thankfully in most situations the effects of fraud can be reversed. But this process can take an emotional toll on you and the impact can go on for much longer than the actual fraud itself – research by Experian's Victims of Fraud team shows that it can take a staggering 300 hours to set the record straight.

That's why it's important to act quickly. Your first step is to get in touch with your banks and lenders – they'll work with you to resolve the issues and if necessary will contact the police on your behalf. Contacting us is the next step as we'll help you clear your credit report.

Read more about the steps you need to take if you're a victim of fraud.

Protect yourself against identity theft

There are many ways fraudsters can get hold of your information so there are a lot of good habits you can start to protect yourself. These are our top three tips:

  1. Never respond to unsolicited emails and phone calls.
  2. Use different passwords for different accounts – particularly for your email account and online banking.
  3. Use strong passwords made up of three random words – you can add in numbers and symbols, and use a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters if you want.

Click here for more information about protecting yourself against fraud.

One of the best things you can do is understand the early warning signs, so that, if you do become a victim, you can act fast to help avoid the fraud becoming more severe.

Experian's Identity Fraud Monitoring

Experian's Identity Fraud Monitoring actively alerts you to specific changes on your credit report which could be potential fraudulent activity. It can help you spot fraud, fix it and add extra protection for your personal information in the future.

ProtectMyID, now FREE

With identity fraud monitoring from Experian, you'll get:

  • Alerts when certain changes to your credit report may indicate fraud
  • A dedicated fraud expert should you be a victim of fraud
  • Additional protection if you are at risk of becoming a victim of fraud
  • One off review of your Experian Credit Report
  • Follow up checks after a case is resolved