Stolen card fraud hits record

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A RECORD amount of money was stolen by credit card and cheque fraud last year by criminals using increasingly sophisticated methods. Figures being gathered by banks and building societies show that, despite tough new security measures, the amount of fraud will top 1991's record pounds 165m.

Police 'stolen cheque' squads say fraudsters are using networks of criminals to launder stolen cards and books. Two million cards were lost or stolen in 1991, and 200,000 of them were later used illegally.

Merseyside police's cheque squad has discovered that criminal 'organisers' are hiring people to steal cards and cheque books. They then send separate teams of about four men and women to Scotland to buy goods, such as electrical items, fashion clothes, perfume and jewellery with the stolen cards. The teams stay for several weeks, during which time more cards are sent to them. Goods are taken back to Liverpool and sold at secret markets.

The organisers find out whether a card's owner has contacted police by purchasing a cheap item in a shop with an 'on-line' checking machine. If the card is refused, the organiser runs away.

Scotland Yard's central cheque squad has reported a similar trend of organised theft. In some cases, high value stolen 'gold' cards have been hired out for pounds 200 a day.

Barry Fergus, Barclays Bank's project director of fraud control, said there was a thriving resale market for stolen cards. An unsigned debit card would fetch about pounds 200. 'We catch criminals who have actual shopping lists of goods they are supposed to buy with the stolen credit cards.'

Barclays has installed a 'fraud watch' computer which scans for cardholders making unusual purchases.

Other developments include using photographs on cards. At the moment only the Royal Bank of Scotland and TSB use them.