Identity crisis: the new face of fraud

Sam Dunn sees how we can resist the 'phishers', 'skimmers' and bin raiders who steal our lives and then our money

Brazen theft of thousands of pounds from banks and credit card accounts is on the up, and this crime is being committed in your name.

Brazen theft of thousands of pounds from banks and credit card accounts is on the up, and this crime is being committed in your name.

We are oblivious to our "law breaking", of course; it's only when financial damage wrought in our name is uncovered that the truth dawns.

Identity theft and subsequent fraud - a crime that can destroy your credit rating, leave you out of pocket for months and disrupt your life - is growing at an alarming rate. Figures for 2004 from the Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs) will this week show a 20 per cent rise in card fraud - up to nearly £37m - resulting from identity theft. As many as one in 10 of us have now fallen victim, the consumer body Which? estimated last week.

The City of London fraud squad has found that more residential burglaries are now carried out with the sole purpose of stealing individuals' bank details or documents.

Identity fraud happens when thieves gather as many bits of information about you as possible - date of birth, proof of address, mother's maiden name, bank account number - and then fraudulently apply for credit cards, open bank accounts or manipulate and drain your existing accounts of cash. In other cases, your identity will be used to forge passports or national insurance numbers for use in serious international crime.

Diverse tricks come into play: "phishing", which dupes you into divulging bank details by email or telephone; spam email viruses, which access sensitive information on your computer; raiding bins for card receipts and discarded bills; intercepting mail, and "skimming" your plastic for credit or debit card details.

Everyone is vulnerable. A court last week heard how Ricky Gervais, star of the TV comedy The Office, had his bank account and passport details stolen in a bid to buy bullion.

Given all this, how much should we worry?

"It's not an epidemic but it could develop into one if we don't all do something about it," warns Neil Munroe, director of the Equifax credit reference agency and a member of the Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System (Cifas).

The problem is exacerbated by the lack of a single body of authority to which victims can turn for help once a stolen identity comes to light.

"In the worst cases, the first that you know anything about it is when a bailiff turns up at the door," says Apacs spokeswoman Gemma Smith.

So it's left to you to deal with police, work with the aggrieved lender to prove your innocence and then contact the credit reference agencies to start the clean-up operation to restore your credit rating or get your money back. This will take time and prevent you, in the meantime, from being able to take out credit cards, apply for a mortgage or arrange a loan.

At the moment there are no plans to set up a dedicated national body, says Ms Smith, although the industry may be forced to consider it if the figures get much worse.

Ironically, chip and pin debit and credit cards are fuelling the problem as the new anti-fraud technology at the point-of-sale in shops has forced fraudsters to redouble their efforts elsewhere.

Although the victims' own financial losses will usually be reimbursed, identity fraud was estimated by the Government to have cost the UK some £1.3bn back in 2002; a figure that will have soared since then.

No specific regulation from the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the City watchdog, requires banks to adopt security measures such as identity checks for customers. However, since they end up footing the bill, many are working with industry bodies such as Apacs to crack down on the crime.

Privately, a number of banks are considering technology based on finger-printing, as well as plans to match your pin security number with a new password every time you make a financial transaction.

In the meantime, though, there are plenty of steps that individuals can take to protect their identity. Shred old bank statements, bills, loan applications and receipts before you discard them, and don't use obvious clues such as your mother's maiden name as a password.

If you change address, get the Royal Mail to redirect your post - it costs £6.55 for one month.

Regular checks on your credit file - the relevant agencies' web addresses are listed below - allow you to see any fraudulent applications. A postal request to an agency costs just £2.

For £11.75, consider the Cifas Protective Registration Service, which alerts you each time a card application is made in your name.

If you fall victim to identity fraud, you'll need a crime number from the police. Meanwhile, keep copies of all correspondence from lenders defrauded by crooks in your name; it will help as evidence of your innocence.

Contact: www.callcredit.co.uk; www.equifax.co.uk; www.experian.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

    £22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This extremely successful and well-established...

    Guru Careers: FX Trader / Risk Manager

    Competitive with monthly bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced FX...

    Day In a Page

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue