Surge in plastic card fraud halted

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The Independent Online
A SURGE in credit and debit card fraud has been halted, freezing losses at pounds 165m a year, or pounds 5 a second, it emerged yesterday.

But experts warned that counterfeiting, which is increasing in the United States, could be the next growth area. Criminals use information on carbon credit card slips, often found in dustbins or kept by waiters in restaurants, to forge credit cards.

'We're looking at new technology, particularly cardholder verification, to drive out the casual counterfeiter,' Liz Phillips, director of the Credit Card Research Group, said. The freeze in plastic card fraud last year was announced by the Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs), which oversees money transmission on behalf of United Kingdom banks, at the launch of its 1993 Card Watch campaign.

Fraud prevention schemes helped to cause a pounds 600,000 fall in losses in the year to 1992, from pounds 165.6m to pounds 165m, the association said. The 0.4 per cent drop reversed a trend in which fraud increased by more than one-third in the year to 1991.

'By containing the problem we have made a significant step in the right direction,' Richard Allen, chief executive of Apacs, said.

More than 80 million plastic cards are in circulation, belonging to 34 million people. By 2000 it is estimated there will be 4 billion credit card transactions a year, compared with 400 million in 1985.

Last year's drop in losses resulted from the launch of a joint database to pool information stored by Barclays, for Visa, and the other major banks, for Access, on blacklisted retailers whose permission to accept cards had been terminated.

Royal Mail had set up a database to identify local fraud-prone areas, which contributed to a 5 per cent drop in the interception of new cards in 1992.

The new Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System, an initiative allowing banks to discover how many credit cards an applicant already holds, also helped to reduce fraudulent applications.

Sue Cook, of BBC television's Crimewatch UK launched the campaign and warned of the serious consequences of card theft.

'Keys, address books and diaries in particular can give strangers access to your personal life. They will know where you live and perhaps what you are doing every night of the week,' she said.