‘Do more’ call to tackle identity fraud epidemic

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MORE needs to be done to tackle the scourge of identity fraud and other scams, it was claimed last night, as figures showed the problem has soared in the last twelve months.

Often organised criminals are behind the scams but there is also evidence bleak economic news has left many feeling the pinch and encouraged them to turn to crime to get cash.

Figures show frauds rocketed by nine per cent across the country in 2011, when compared with the previous year.

CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, says over 236,500 frauds were reported during 2011 – the highest number it has ever recorded.

Of these, identity fraud accounted for 48 per cent of the total. In these cases fraudsters seek personal details from people such date of birth, addresses and other details to enable them to pose as somebody else and run up bills or take out loans.

To get these valuable details a number of tactics are used, from computer hacking, to intercepting post, surfing social network sites for details, or sending con emails, claiming to be from a bank or other organisation, asking for personal information.

Other types of fraud include using a person’s bank account or savings account to launder money, putting false details on application forms for things such as mortgages, loans or credit cards and making false insurance claims.

Richard Hurley, communications manager at CIFAS, said: “The value of personal data to fraudsters has never been questioned, but the continued increases in the levels of identity fraud and account takeover warn us all that not enough is being done to combat fraudsters.

“All organisations must recognise this threat, and review how they try to prevent such frauds: whether that is by reviewing their security procedures and increasing identification requirements when dealing with applications, or by ensuring that individuals regularly change passwords and PIN numbers.

“It is obvious that fraud relating to personal data is an immense criminal trade so, fundamentally, it’s time for every one of us to start treating data in the same way that we would guard a prized possession; as something to be secured and protected without complacency.”

Increasingly legitimate accounts are being used for fraud.

Criminals are known to use “money mules” to launder cash through bank accounts.

Often those involved do not realise they are being duped by criminals to pay money into their personal accounts and transfer it on, believing they are being offered what appears to be a genuine job to buy goods or move cash in return for a small fee. In other cases an account is hijacked without the account holder realising and used to receive and move stolen cash around.

Mr Hurley said the economic pinch could be a motivating factor behind the increases.

He said: “Many of these frauds will undoubtedly be committed by organised criminal elements, but many will also be committed by people who seemingly feel that their circumstances leave them no choice. Equally, financial desperation leaves many susceptible to potential scammers.”

Figures released last year to mark National Identity Fraud Prevention Week showed over four million people in the UK have been victims of identity fraud and the number of victims is rising as people continue to be complacent.

The average cost of these incidents to each victim was £1,190 but some individuals have lost much more.

Research also revealed people are still failing to take simple steps to protect their identities such as shredding their bills or verifying emails or calls from organisations before responding and giving personal details as asked.

When online far too many people give out their details such as date of birth and their address on social networking sites.

Figures revealed by the Yorkshire Post last year showed cases of identity fraud across Yorkshire rose by 13 per cent in the first nine months of 2010.