Company directors are one of the most at-risk groups for identity fraud, with criminals using data pulled from Companies House and social media to impersonate them, a new report has found.
The study from Cifas, the UK’s leading fraud prevention service, and LexisNexis found that directors were nearly twice as likely as other members of the public to be victims of identity theft.
Nearly 19% of identity fraud victims are company directors, despite company directors comprising less than 9% of the UK’s population.
Publicly available data
One of the reasons given by the report is that fraudsters use publicly available data, including listings on Companies House, as a starting point and then obtain further information in order to successfully commit the fraud.
Commenting on the findings Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman of Cifas, said: “There will always be more publicly available information about you if you run your own business compared to other individuals.”
The names, addresses and dates of birth of most UK directors are usually freely available online to members of the public, and despite recent efforts to limit this including reducing access to director's date of birth information, directors have continued to suffer disproportionately from identity theft.
While public data such as property ownership or company directorships provide fraudsters with a starting point, they often build on this to make the information ‘useable’ by collecting other online information such as social media posts, media profiles and company websites.
The report recommends that directors can make the fraudsters’ task more difficult by restricting the information about themselves and their lives that are publically available online.
Lady Judge encouraged company directors to do as much as possible to separate their personal and company personas. “Limit the personal information you share on social media and professional networking sites,” she said, “proactively check your credit file and your accounts. The quicker you spot that your details have been used fraudulently, the easier it will be to limit the damage caused.”
The study also discovered that identity fraudsters targeting company directors try to obtain credit files before committing identity fraud.
Once criminals have stolen the identities of directors, they often sign up for multiple mobile phone contracts and buy consumer goods online.
The thieves rely on business owners holding mobile phone contracts for their employees, allowing them to purchase multiple phone contracts without raising alarm.
Nearly half (47%) of recorded identity frauds involving the fraudulent procurement of credit files from company directors took place in London and the South East, with 28% coming from the capital.
Responding to the report a Companies House spokesperson said: “We are aware of concerns about the risk of identity theft. We are currently working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to review the current provisions on the availability of personal information on the register.”
Strategies listed by the report for company directors to protect themselves against such frauds include:
- Check your credit file: a quick and easy piece of advice for everyone - always keep a close eye for anything suspicious on your credit file. Fraudsters will often access a victim’s credit file first to see if it’s an identity worth using. By reviewing yours regularly, you can spot any suspicious activity before it is too late.
- Think about your digital footprint: make things more difficult for fraudsters by limiting what personal info is available in the public domain either on social media or professional networking sites. Also, listing a business address rather than home address on public director registers is advisable. The fewer pieces of the jigsaw a fraudster can get hold of, the harder it will be for them to impersonate.
- Don’t forget about paperwork and post: shred all your financial documents before you throw them away and remember to redirect your mail if you change address or move home.
Have you or your client fallen victim to scammers? What can be done to stop this trend increasing in the future?