Police call for photos on credit cards to cut fraud

A SENIOR police specialist in cheque and credit-card fraud called yesterday for the nation- wide use of photographs on cards, after the success of a pilot project by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Brown, of the central cheque squad at New Scotland Yard, said that the use of photographs would be a major step in preventing the criminal use of cards. It would also reduce a crime bill running at pounds 400m a year - more than twice the high street clearing banks' estimate of the cost of fraud.

Det Ch Insp Brown said that the clearing banks had announced a 30 per cent increase - to nearly pounds 200m - in plastic card crime but police believed the true figure to be twice as high when fraud costs to retailers and building societies were included. Retailers bear the fraud costs of their own cards and of cheques above the normal pounds 50 bank guarantee limit.

In the pilot project by the Royal Bank of Scotland, there were no cases of fraud involving the 8,000 cards bearing the holder's photograph and Det Ch Insp Brown welcomed a similar move by the Trustee Savings Bank.

He was speaking at the launch of a Mori poll of more than 2,000 cardholders commissioned by Reader's Digest, which found that 65 per cent of cardholders believed banks and other card issuers were not doing enough to combat fraud. Nearly 70 per cent said that shop assistants were not thorough enough in checking customers' identities. However, the poll showed that cardholders were less willing to bear the costs of better security: 58 per cent would refuse to pay extra for thief-proof cards. Only a quarter said the extra security was worth an annual charge of pounds 2 or more.

A third of those polled also admitted to undermining security by writing down Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), with one in 20 keeping the number with their card - particularly among those aged under 25.

The survey, being published in next month's Reader's Digest, found that 28 per cent of card theft was through burglaries and 22 per cent by pickpockets. Another quarter of the cards were stolen after they had been mislaid.

Stolen charge cards which have no credit limits, such as American Express, fetch up to pounds 200. The black-market value of credit and debit cards such as Switch and Connect is up to pounds 150 and cheque books backed by guarantee cards are worth pounds 3 to pounds 10 a cheque.

Det Ch Insp Brown said that the stolen cards were sold by thieves to clearing houses, which sold them at a profit to fraudsters - a criminal network with proven links to drugs and pornography.

The survey also found that over a quarter of credit-card holders had two or more cards, and one in seven felt they had more cards than they needed.

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