Interview with Britain’s first major victim of identity theft

Britain’s first major victim of identity theft, Bennett Arron explains how you can protect yourself against identity theft.

Imagine having your identity stolen and losing all of your valuable possessions? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Bennett Arron. In 1998 Bennett became one of Britain’s first major victim of identity theft after he discovered that he owed thousands of pounds to phone networks, banks and department stores.

Now a distinguished expert on identity theft, Bennett has devoted his life to raising awareness of what has become the fastest growing crime in the UK. Bennett is the author of the critically acclaimed book ‘Heard the One About Identity Theft?’, as well as the creator behind the BAFTA nominated Channel 4 documentary ‘How to Steal An identity’. Fresh off the back his recent speech at IP EXPO Europe 2017, Bennett spoke to us about this growing epidemic and how he thinks AI and machine learning will impact identity theft.

You became one of Britain’s first major victims of identity theft. How did you know it was identity theft?

At the time I had no idea what it was. Identity theft as a term then was almost unheard of. All I knew was that someone had rung up incredible debts in my name with mobile phone companies, home shopping companies, department stores and banks. It had been going on for a year before I found out about it.

Could you talk a little bit about what that experience was like for you and what you went through?

It was incredibly shocking and upsetting. I didn’t actually know what was going on. All I knew was that my credit rating had dropped to zero and I couldn’t open any accounts or have any credit cards. I then spent the next year trying to convince all the companies, and the police, that I was me and not the person pretending to be me. It took me almost two years to completely clear my name during which time I became penniless and homeless.

Do you think that banks, shops, and mobile phone companies should take more responsibility in carrying out checks to prevent identity theft?

Absolutely. And I have been campaigning about this for years. It annoys me when credit card companies and banks tell us not to worry if money is taken from the accounts as we won’t be held liable. The money isn’t necessarily the issue, it’s the drop in credit rating that follows it. Companies are too fast in trying to take on new business. When it happened to me, the person didn’t know my date of birth, so they made it up! And it was never checked.

At the time I had no idea what it was. Identity theft as a term then was almost unheard of. All I knew was that someone had rung up incredible debts in my name. It had been going on for a year before I found out about it.

In the last five years, we have seen things like AI and machine learning emerge. Considering the new technological advancements that are being made how do you see identity theft evolving in the next five years?

Sadly I think the scale of the crime will continue to increase. Identity thieves always seem to be a giant step ahead. It’s a shame they don’t use their powers for good instead of evil. And, as we’ve seen too many times, however much the advancement in technology, human error can still give out our personal data.

You’re also a comedian and have made lots of jokes about what happened to you. Are there any funny jokes you’d like to leave our readers with?

Give away my material??!! I don’t want to spoil it for anyone coming to hear my talk or reading my book ‘Heard the One About Identity Theft?’