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Your Personal Identity (ID)

Your Personal Identity (or 'ID') is extremely important, it tells other people who you are and, in fact, that you are you! So, if someone else gets this information, they could impersonate you and do things in your name, like open a bank account, obtain a credit card, take out a mortgage, rent a property, or even get housing or other benefit. They could also potentially change any of the recorded information that makes up your Personal Identity! In short, they can 'become' you, as far as government and financial institutions etc. are concerned - and you, well you may no longer be able to prove that you are indeed who you say you are.
If this were to happen and your ID was to get into the wrong hands (criminal, that is), you could end up in a lot of trouble. Not only could these people fleece you of everything in your bank accounts and run up huge debts in your name (possibly very big debts), but depending on what else they did with this information, you could potentially lose your job, your family, your reputation - in fact, everything you've got and everything you've ever worked for!
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So, you're asking, how could this happen and what do I need to do to protect my ID. In fact, what IS my ID, what constitutes it? Well, firstly, let's see how this could happen.
If, say, someone got hold of your ID and opened a bank account and/or obtain credit cards in your name, they could run up lots of debts, hitting your Credit Rating. This could make it impossible for you to get further credit and of course, you'd have to try to prove that it wasn't you that ran up these debts in the first place and that you were not responsible for repaying them!
Your existing credit cards could have their limits lowered and you could be asked to pay back any outstanding balance immediately. Your bank accounts could have limits applied or even be closed. This would all have a big effect on your other finances, possibly affecting your ability to pay your mortgage, or rent, etc.
As bad as this sounds, what if they accessed something like child porn online, in your name, possibly paying for it using a credit card they have obtained in your name? What would happen then? Your job, your family and your reputation could disappear very quickly indeed, quite likely leaving you homeless and all alone in the world! A reputation is very easily lost, but almost impossible to get back, even if you can prove it wasn't you. And if that sounds like something that just couldn't happen, a work of fiction, think again. This is pretty much exactly what has happen for real to at least one person we have heard of!
So, what is your ID; what constitutes it?
Your Personal Identity is any information that can be used to identify you as being who you say you are. It is made up of the very things that banks, utilities, the government etc. ask you as security questions when you open accounts and you later need to access these accounts, or contact them in relation to these accounts in some other way. Let's take something simple, like your telephone and/or broadband account. When you sign up for this, they will want the obvious; your name (possibly full, including any middle names) and address, but they will also ask you for your date of birth and ask you to create a user ID or memorable phrase, name, or other data and also a password. Added to this, they may ask you to answer a series of other security questions, allowing you to choose from a list, like these common ones:
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  • Your mother's maiden name.
  • Your first school.
  • Your favourite teacher.
  • Your first girl/boyfriend.
  • Your first pet's name.
  • Your first car.
  • Where you were born.
... and other such things. I'm sure you've come across these before. All of this can be classified as part of your ID, as it's information that is personal to you and known only to you and, perhaps, those closest to you.
Commonly, your ID can include any of these:
  • Your Full Name
  • Your Maiden Name
  • Your Date of Birth
  • Your Address and/or Post Code
  • Previous Addresses
  • Your National Insurance number
  • Your Account Number(s)
  • A Memorable Date
  • A Memorable Place or Word
  • Your Account Password(s) or PassNumber
  • Your NHS or Hospital number
  • Your Driving Licence number
  • Your Parents' or Children's Names and dates of birth
  • Anything else that can be used to uniquely identify you
To prove these, you will often be asked to provide original documents, like a passport or driving license, plus one or more official letters with your name and current address on them, like utility bills etc. These will need to be recent, usually within the last year.
When signing up to a website, App, or other service, you will be asked for certain personal ID you use. Depending on the type of site it is and what it asks for, you might be able to get away with not using your real name and ID. Clearly, if you're setting up a new bank account, online account for your elctricity, phone, other important service, NHS, govenment, or local council etc., or just a site you will be purchasing from (Amazon, etc.), you will need to use all of your correct ID. This goes for any 'legal' services, or where any transactions will take place, as these will need to match the information on your financial accounts.
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However, what answers you give to the security questions is quite another matter, as nobody other than yourself needs to know - or cares - what these are. They don't have to be accurate, or even true, you just have to remember the answers for when you need them! You could for instance answer the question 'What's the name of your first pet' and use any name you like, even if you've never had a pet! However, if it's not a true answer, you may not remember what you've entered when you come to access it in the future, so 'real' answers are probably best - unless you have a photographic memory that is!
When it comes to other, less important sites though, it may well be a good idea to use ID that is not real. In fact, the less accurate personal ID you have online, the safer you and your ID will be, especially if there should be a website data breach - and these are fairly commmon nowadays! Here, we're talking about minor, less important websites, like (possibly) social media, advertising sites (providing you don't need to pay via your financial accounts), local community sites, forums, chat rooms, etc. - those that generally only ask for a name and password - provided that is, they don't need to link to your 'real' accounts (as with Amazon, eBay, etc.). So, if you don't need to, don't use your REAL name etc, just make something up! Nobody will know, other than yourself!
Also, on these sites,
don't
use your real birth date, or even your real post code if you can get away with it! Make up a second 'official' bithday, like the queen had, and use this. This is really important, as these are two of the main questions banks etc. will ask for as part of their security questions, so you don't want them all over the web, where they can easily be found by criminals. Well-meaning friends and family often wish you 'happy birthday' on social media (Facebook etc.), but this is not a good idea. Any criminal worth his/her salt will soon be able to work out your DOB, especially if you have photos online (and who doesn't!). So, if you can, ask them
not
to do this! For a post code, see if you can use an old one, if you used to live elsewhere fairly local. Do make a note of this somewhere though (but
not
on your device), as these things are so easy to forget! You can usually easily reset a password, but security questions are not so easy to reset or change!
Now obviously, We're not suggesting that you make up or use a completely fake ID and use it for everything, that would not be legal and in any case, for most services etc. you need and want them to be in your name,
not
somebody else's, but if used intelligently, for the right sort of accounts, (gumtree, freecycle, forums, etc.), this can make your actual ID - and your important accounts - a lot safer.
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So, if it's official, financial, or legal in some other way, use your real data, but if it's none of these, consider using different information and also using a different email account. Personally, I use three email accounts; one for personal communications with friends and family, another for 'official' use (bank accounts, utilities, government etc.) and another for all of the 'disposable' or 'junk' accounts. Not only is it safer, but if the 'junk' account gets too much spam or real junk mail, I can just dump it without affecting my main accounts.
Going even further in keeping important and non-important things separate, you can also use two different phone numbers for the same reason - which you can easily do if you get a dual-SIM phone! Of course this does complicate things a bit, but if you use a pay as you go for the second, 'junk' account, i.e., for those people and organisations you are very unlikely to need to call back and a monthly account for personal and important accounts, this can work well. It's not quite as separate as the three email accounts - though it is possible to get triple-SIM phones - but it is a good way of trying to keep down scam and other unwanted calls. Plus, like the 'junk' email account, you can easily ditch the second phone SIM and/or get a new number if you need to, without losing your main number for family, friends and important contacts.
So, take good care of your Personal ID; don't give it to just anyone who asks for it, unless you are sure you know who they are and that they are genuine and need to know it (see our Aware and Scams pages) and use 'alternative' data where you safely and legally can and, hopefully, you and your ID will continue to be safe from harm.
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This page was last updated on: 08 November 2023
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