How easy is it for hackers to steal your identity?

Beware of hackers
Beware of hackers

In fewer than two hours, experts uncovered enough information to potentially defraud both me and my family – and you are probably equally vulnerable.

In double-quick time, a team from Cyber 123 and FSecure were well on their way to stealing my identity.

“We are pretty confident we could have scammed you or one of your family members,” said Cyber director Nigel Morgan, whose colleagues had sifted an astonishing amount of my personal data in their lunch break.

Building a social profile using publicly-available information online was the first step.

What they found was easily enough for a compelling episode of This is Your Life.

Barring a beyond-the-grave message from my late hamster, it felt like I’d spent an hour with Mystic Meg.

They knew my age, address, mobile and work telephone number and email address, a detailed work and education history, my living arrangements and much more.

As a journalist, some of the information was easily gleaned from sources like LinkedIn and Twitter – but other details were less obviously sourced.

One tweet, it transpired, opened up a chasm of opportunity, leading to discovery of details about my nephew, pregnant partner and her family.

One chink led to potentially catastrophic conclusions. And while my Facebook profile may have been fairly secure, the lax privacy settings of other family members left us exposed.

Combined with other directory sources like 192, the team had a dearth of data. Even I did not know when my partner’s mother and stepfather moved in together. My would-be scammers did.

The consequences could have be catastrophic.

I was in no doubt speculative cyber attacks were possible.

Although the swift social sifting might not have accessed my bank details, for example, the team were clear unscrupulous individuals could have dug further and it might only have been a matter of time.I was left scrabbling to do all I could to protect myself in future. A family summit was called and I will always be looking over my shoulder.

But what can be done?

Wiping your digital record entirely is impossible. If you are a businessman for example, Companies House provides the perfect start. Nigel showed me two scam letters from the Office for National Statistics and HSBC he received in recent weeks. He believes Companies House was the scammers’ hunting ground.

Other personal details will always be available via the electoral roll or directory sites like 192.

Education and awareness of scams is, Nigel argues, the key to protecting yourself, almost expecting you will one day become a target.

He said: “You need to be aware and challenge everything that comes in. You need to be a pessimist. For example, if you get a bank letter go to its website and check if the contact details

are correct and then ask them if they sent the letter.”

If your social media settings are not set at the highest level, your family and friends may not be. This could open up avenues for scammers.

Spreading the word is a great start to minimising the risk.