The number of people falling victim to identity theft in the UK has risen by almost a third, new figures suggest.
The BBC has learned that criminals are increasingly using internet forums to buy and sell data.
They use the information to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards and commit fraud in other people’s names.
Fraud prevention agency Cifas said the number of victims rose by 31% to 32,058 in the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.
Identity theft occurs when criminals abuse the personal data or identity details of an innocent victim to impersonate them or to create a fake identity, in order to buy products or services.
One online investigator told BBC News’ Angus Crawford that criminals are heading to online “fraud forums” to swap tips as well as buy and sell credit cards, passports and email addresses.
Forums will typically sell real credit cards with date of birth detail for as little as £5, he said.
One of the identities being bought and sold online belongs to an 80-year-old woman.
Barbara Evans and her husband have never even heard of the Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). But apparently she has an H&M account, and someone is using it to buy clothes.
Her husband told BBC News that criminals used a stolen passport to open a credit account in her name.
Cifas said that more than 80% of identity theft in the first three months of 2015 was attempted or perpetrated online.
The group’s research showed that criminals mainly used people’s identities to set up new credit cards and bank accounts – these accounted for 41% and 27% of all identity theft cases respectively.
The average age for both male and female identity theft victims was 46 years old.
However, Cifas warned that the 21-30 age group continue to be increasingly targeted – with the number of victims in that age bracket up 26% from 2014.
Darren Innes, chief executive of due diligence company C6 Intelligence, told BBC News that the crime can be “traumatic” for victims.