Alert as online crooks bringing fear of fraud to the countryside

People living in rural areas of Yorkshire and other parts of the country may be just as vulnerable as those living in towns and cities to identity crimes, a new report has warned.

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Traditionally people were thought to be more at risk of being targeted if they lived in major urban areas as it gave fraudsters more opportunity to operate under a cloak of anonymity.

The latest research, however, warns that the internet is allowing people to target victims remotely from around the world.

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Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post earlier this year showed there were more than 55,000 cases of personal fraud, including identity theft, recorded at homes across the region last year. Personal fraud figures showed urban areas including Sheffield and Leeds are being hit especially hard.

They were supplied by Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, which has published its latest report, Identity Crime: On Your Doorstep, in collaboration with Ordnance Survey, highlighting how criminals are changing tactics.

Richard Hurley, Cifas communications manager, said yesterday: “The findings of this report confirm that everyone is vulnerable to fraud and that anybody can fall victim.”

In 2012 the report shows that in Leeds and parts of North Yorkshire there were between 3.79 and 6.18 frauds per 1,000 victims – a figure that is higher than many other parts of the country including Edinburgh, though victim numbers in areas such as London and Birmingham are higher.

The fraud watchdog says analysis of frauds in 2012 shows a shift in tactics with criminals now able to successfully target people living in rural communities with data they have found online.

Previously, crooks raided bins outside apartment blocks for discarded bills or other information, or intercepted post for addresses and the personal details they needed to pose as somebody else and buy goods and open accounts in their name.

The report warns that rural areas, are particularly susceptible to some identity crimes such as those where criminals hack into a person’s bank or another person’s account to launder money or steal cash.

A spokesman for Cifas said: “While the highest proportion of victims of identity crime will be found in larger urban centres, those living in more rural surroundings are just as likely as city dwellers to be targeted by a fraudster looking to take over an account.”

Researchers say this is because a criminal does not need knowledge of the area the person is living in to intercept post and if they have password and account details they can hack into compromised accounts from around the world.

The report authors warned people to be careful about some of the information they were posting online as it can give criminals vital information.

“The ease and accessibility of information on the internet is also something that fraudsters will exploit,” the report says.

“In the age of social networking, as more and more people share insights into their lives online, or through mobile technologies, so the fraudsters themselves will look to take advantage.”

Organised crime is frequently linked to the scams but the watchdog – which collates fraud figures from banks, mail order and savings companies – says in some cases the con artists are known to their victims.

Mr Hurley added: “There are steps that we, as individuals, can take to help ourselves. In addition, organisations and the government have a responsibility to offer guidance, education and prevention in equal measure so that citizens and consumers can help minimise the personal and societal damage that fraud can cause.”

Advice about how to avoid being a victim is at: www.cifas.org.uk/avoid_being_a_victim