Why the web has become the new ‘scene of the crime'

Fraudsters need just three key bits of information - your name, date of birth and address - to steal your identity, access your accounts, or take out loans or credit cards in your name

THEY say that when your luck is out, bad things come in threes. I'll explain this ‘Rule of Three' in a second.

A revolution is currently taking place in the world of financial planning, and the number of ways to lose our money is increasing. In this day and age, the potential downside, how to protect ourselves from losses, is an ever more prominent concern.

This is nowhere more apparent than in our dealings on the internet. For all its benefits, the web has become the new ‘scene of the crime' for many unlucky people.

We are bombarded with offers and opportunities on the net, many are good and wonderful, but many are not. We are constantly warned that dangers lurk at every turn. “If it looks too good to be true, that's because it is.”

Which brings us to the events of the past week. You may have seen some special offers circulating on social media lately, purporting to offer you a voucher for £75 of free shopping at your local supermarket.

It's the rule of three again - there are three versions. The voucher has been spotted in both Tesco and Asda versions, and also using the logo of the Morrison's chain over the water.

To get your voucher, all you have to do is fill in your contact details: name, address, email, mobile number. However, there are no vouchers. It's a scam – a trick to collect your personal details.

Tesco issued an official response as follows: “We have reported this hoax, and it has been taken offline.”

Today, personal financial planning goes beyond saving and investing; part of personal finance is protecting yourself and your money from fraud.

Here's what makes voucher scams like this so potentially dangerous: the rule of three again. Fraudsters need just three key bits of information to steal your identity, access your accounts, or take out loans or credit cards in your name.

If a criminal can find out your name, date of birth and address, that's all he needs. No phone number, no card details, nothing further required. Just your name, date of birth, and address.

These details are so dependable for him because, while you may rewrite your passwords every once in a while, your name and date of birth never change, and your address hardly ever does.

If you fill in these details in response to a special offer, such as the voucher above, or if those details are public on your Facebook account, the criminals are rubbing their hands with glee. The three key details are theirs.

We are surprisingly lax in this regard. A YouGov survey showed that nearly half (48 per cent) of 18-24 year olds divulge this information on social media sites, compared to 28 per cent of those between 35-44. Your date of birth can also be seen from birthday congratulations on the day.

Once they have those three details, there are websites that will supply a fake British passport - complete with watermarks, microprinting and security threads - based on your identity, for £550. A fake US passport costs £590. They even do a deal offering a UK passport plus driver's licence for £720.

But the criminal doesn't need to go to that expense. For the scammer on a shoestring, a fake utility bill can be had for just £25. This could then be used to take out a loan in your name.

The identity thief loves you even more if you live in an apartment building or block of flats with shared mail boxes. If he is able to order a replacement debit card linked to your existing account, he can easily intercept it, when it's sent to your home address.

The nature of personal finance is evolving, and in addition to considering how to grow our wealth, we also have to learn how not to lose it.

So let's be aware of the rule of three, and remember that, what used to be evolution – is now revolution!

:: Michael Kennedy is an independent financial adviser and pensions specialist, and can be contacted on 028 71886005. Further information on Facebook at “Kennedy Independent Financial Advice Ltd”

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