09 Jan 2023

Women half as likely as men to have identity stolen due to not oversharing personal details

  • Just 11% of women have had their identity stolen compared to 23% of men
  • Women more likely to protect social media but less likely to have friends they’ve never met and share details
  • More than two thirds of people worried about having identity stolen while 17% have been victims
  • 70% share personal details on social media profiles and 22% of profiles can be viewed by anyone
  • 7% never check bank statements for suspicious transactions and 24% never check credit files

A new poll suggests women are far more diligent when it comes to protecting their information and, as a result, are less than half as likely to have their identity stolen than men.

Just 11 per cent of women have had their identity stolen compared to nearly one in four men (23%). Despite this, just 64 per cent of men are concerned about becoming a victim versus seven in ten women (70%). In addition, women (63%) are much more likely to protect all their social media accounts (vs 50% of men), far less likely to have friends or followers they’ve never met (37% women vs 53% men) and less prone to exposing personal details in public (31% of women vs 48% of men).

Nationwide conducted the poll of more than 3,000 people1 as part of its efforts to educate members around the dangers of fraud and scams. According to UK Finance, losses from card ID theft - when a criminal uses stolen or fake documents to open a card account in someone else’s name or takes over a person’s genuine account - increased 86 per cent in the first six months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021 (£11.5m to £21.4m), while the number of individual cases more than doubled.2

The research highlights that more than two thirds (67%) of people fret about having their identity stolen and used fraudulently – a worry that rises with age. While 62 per cent of those aged 16-34 feel this way, that figure grows to 73 per cent for those aged 45-54. The worries come with good reason, with around one in six (17%) people having been targeted.

Criminals can use a stolen identity to do a number of things. Of those who had their identity stolen:

  • A third (33%) said it had been used to order goods in their name (e.g. mobile phone, vehicle).
  • More than a quarter (27%) said it was used to access or steal from their accounts.
  • One in five (20%) said it was used to borrow money in their name (e.g. credit card, personal loan).
  • 19 per cent said their details were used by criminals as part of a scam to impersonate their bank or building society or a public organisation, such as the police, to trick them out of their money.

Social sharing:

Oversharing on social media sites appears to be a key vulnerability with seven in ten (70%) admitting they share personal information on there. According to Nationwide’s survey, someone’s full name, age or date of birth and email address are the most common items shared:

  • 44% share full name
  • 41% post age or date of birth
  • 33% their email address
  • 21% their mobile number
  • 18% mention their employer or job title
  • 15% pet names/family names which may be used as security questions elsewhere
  • 12% share their address and postcode

Despite uploading information that could potentially put people at risk of identity theft, nearly a quarter (22%) have not made their social media accounts private and only visible to friends or followers. While 56 per cent said their social media accounts are locked, it’s women (nearly two thirds – 63%) that are more likely to have protected their accounts than men (only half of them – 50% – have protected their social media profiles).

However, more than three quarters (77%) don’t know how to protect their tweets, 61 per cent don’t know how to make their Instagram profile private, while nearly two in five (39%) don’t know how to make their Facebook account private.

According to the Nationwide poll, 45 per cent of people have friends or followers on their social media who they’ve never met and, again, this is more prevalent among men (53%) than women (37%), and younger people than those who are older – 66 per cent of 16-34s compared to 44 per cent of 45-54s and 28 per cent of those aged 55 plus.

Checking is important:

A clear sign that someone’s identity has been stolen is when unusual transactions appear on bank statements, or they receive correspondence that a loan or credit card, for example, has been opened in their name. However, the poll shows that seven per cent never check bank statements for suspicious transactions and nearly a quarter (24%) never check their credit file to see if anything has been opened in their name.

Careful of public displays of information:

Nearly two in five (39%) have used online banking or done something that uses private/personal details in a public place, with men much more likely to have done so (48% vs 31% of women). The same goes for younger people – 63 per cent of 16-34s have done it compared to just 17 per cent of those aged 55 or over.

Password protection:

Passwords protecting accounts and devices should use a different password each time or people could risk a compromise on one which opens up all the others. However, according to the Nationwide poll, more than a third (35%) use the same password or code for multiple devices, websites, apps and email accounts, while nearly one in five (19%) share passwords with friends and family (e.g. for Netflix or devices).

Protecting the physical:

More than a third (35%) admit they don’t shred documents containing personal information before they throw them out. One in ten (10%) say they don’t have a secure place for their post to be delivered, while 42 per cent say that their post isn’t always completely pushed through the letterbox or into a lockable, personal post box. And just under one in ten (9%) of those who’ve moved house never had their mail redirected, while 43 per cent said they did so for up to six months – despite Royal Mail offering a redirection service for up to 12 months3.

Ed Fisher, Head of Fraud Policy at Nationwide Building Society, said: “While it’s good to see that identity theft is at the front of people’s minds, our survey shows a worrying lack of steps taken by people to protect themselves. We urge everyone to be vigilant by protecting their details and observing a few basic tips - don’t overshare your information unnecessarily, consider who is following your online activity, and protect your devices and accounts with both security software and strong passwords or codes that are not the same. Don’t provide information to anyone contacting you unexpectedly, or respond to emails or texts requesting information, without checking carefully they are genuine. Also make sure to cancel or report lost or stolen cards immediately and regularly check statements and credit files for any issues.

“It is only by taking precautionary steps that we can hope to prevent this type of fraud from occurring. The less we give the criminals, the less chance they have of striking. Our identity is precious, and criminals sometimes need only a few pieces of personal data to begin targeting you further.”

Anyone who has become the victim of identity theft or identity fraud should contact their bank or building society immediately. Nationwide has a dedicated freephone number that is open 24/7 for members to report if they believe they’ve been a victim – 0800 055 66 22.


Top tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft

Never unnecessarily share or give out your personal details

  • This includes your account number, sort code, PIN, password, card reader passcodes and any one-time codes. When giving out your account number and sort code to receive a payment, make sure you’re giving it to a trustworthy person. And never share data, such as your PIN or a one-time code with anyone.

Use strong passwords for all your accounts

  • A strong password needs to be unique to each account. Try not to use the same one for different accounts like your email, bank account and insurances.
  • A strong password should also be at least 12 characters long, contain numbers and symbols as well as letters, and not use any of your personal information. That means do not use things like a relative’s name, your street address or pet’s name.

Cancel or report lost or stolen cards or other ID documents

  • If your card, passbook or chequebook has been lost or stolen, cancel or freeze it immediately.
  • If your passport, driving licence or other ID is lost or stolen, report it to the organisation it’s from straightaway.
  • Ensure bank cards and chequebooks are kept away from shared or communal spaces whenever possible.

Protect yourself and your money online

  • Install virus checkers onto all devices. This includes your computer, laptop, phone and tablet. And remember to keep them up to date by regularly checking for updates or setting them up to automatically update.
  • Be careful when using social media – it's targeted by fraudsters to harvest personal financial information. Check your privacy settings to make sure only those you trust can view your account and posts.

Be wary when using your card in public

  • Whether you're using your phone or you're online in a public place, take care when using public WiFi and check you aren’t being listened to or that people can see your information.

Check your credit report regularly

  • There are lots of credit reference agencies available. Some are free and some will email you regular updates.
  • Apart from being a good habit, checking your credit score can help keep you safe. Unexpected credit agreements, surprise loans or a sudden drop in a credit score are tell-tale signs of identity fraud.

Keep paper documents safe. Or go paperless

  • If you keep paper financial records, it’s vital you only keep what’s necessary – and that it’s kept securely. Safely shred any statements and receipts you don’t need.
  • If possible, switch to paperless statements – the less paper lying around, the less chance your sensitive details fall into the wrong hands.

Redirect your mail when you move home

  • Before moving home, make a list of the companies that have your address. And make sure you update all of them as soon as you move. You can ask Royal Mail to redirect any post to your new address for up to a year.

Notes to editors

1 Research of 3,079 UK national respondents conducted by Censuswide between 26 and 31 August 2022. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

2 Half year fraud update 2022.pdf (ukfinance.org.uk) – page 13

3 Redirection - Get Mail to Your New Address | Royal Mail Group Ltd