Identity theft occurs when criminals access enough personal information about an individual – usually their name, birthdate and addresses past and current - to commit fraud.

They use various methods to do this, from harvesting electronic data to simple theft; with the information they gather they can pretend to be the victim in order to fraudulently obtain money, goods or services.

[Read more: How to keep your identity safe online]

A fraudster can use your identity to open bank accounts or take over your existing ones; obtain credit cards, loans or benefits; take out mobile phone contracts; or receive genuine documents, like a passport or driving licence, in your name - these can be used for criminal activities where proof of identity is needed.

Increasing availability of, and ease of access to, personal information and records online means this sort of crime is likely to grow. Therefore, it is vitally important to protect your personal information to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. Here’s what you should do.

Vary your passwords and make sure they’re strong. Too many people still use just one password for everything, which is manna from heaven to criminals. Make sure you use a variety, and make them as complex as possible with a mix of numbers, symbols and upper-case letters.

Keep your documents safe. Don’t leave personal documents lying around, and definitely not in your car. Store everything securely and if you’re throwing out anything with your name, address, birthdate or financial information on it, shred it first.

[Read more: How to deal with fraudulent emails]

Be careful with your personal information. Take every precaution when giving out your personal info – if you buy something over the phone using your card details, try not do it in a public place; don’t make your birthdate too public; keep your holiday plans to yourself as much as possible – and, naturally, don’t reveal any important passwords to anyone if you don’t have to.

Be careful what you sign. Your signature is valuable to fraudsters. If you have to sign something, make sure it is what it says it is.

Be aware of latest scams. Remember to take a look at www.bt.com/scams. It’s updated regularly with information designed to help you stay safe and know exactly what to do should you be the victim of a scam.

Find out more information about how BT can help you to protect yourself online at www.bt.com/help/security