Identity fraud most virulent being committed

Most alarming, says CIFAS, is the fact that the total number of identity frauds being recorded in the first nine months of 2011 has increased slightly (by 2%) when compared with the same period of last year, proving that this most prevalent of fraud crimes shows no sign of abating and is helping to fuel an overall rise in fraud levels.

Identity fraud can involve the use of a completely fictitious set of identities, or the impersonation of an innocent victim (using their details) in order to obtain products or services in the victim's name.

This is different from, but exacerbated by, account takeover fraud: where a criminal will have gained access (e.g. through computer hacking or interception of a credit card) to another person's account details and taken over the account.

The most worrying fact is that identity fraud and account takeover fraud together constitute more than a half (nearly 57%) of all confirmed frauds that have taken place in the first three quarters of 2011.

CIFAS communications manager, Richard Hurley, stated: "The fact that more than 1 in 2 of all frauds relate to the theft or misuse of data should send a crystal-clear warning to organisations and consumers alike: look after your personal data and information about you!

“Whether it is poor security settings on personal accounts, lack of verification processes, or not co-operating with other bodies to clamp down on organised fraudsters, we all have an important part to play in stopping information falling into criminals' hands.

“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."

The number of people who have been fraudulently impersonated has decreased slightly; by 1% in the first three quarters of the year.

As Richard Hurley explained: "This slight decrease may seem welcome, however the overall picture is anything but good news.

“The decrease in victims of impersonation masks an increase in the overall level of identity fraud: which means that criminals, therefore, are trying to ‘create' identities to defraud organisations.

“In the end, it is still the innocent customer and consumer that suffer through higher premiums and prices, or the need to pay higher taxes or VAT to cover losses by the public sector."

Fighting fraud, by sharing information about confirmed frauds in order to prevent the fraudsters perpetrating further crime, is a key weapon currently used by businesses. Further participation in such schemes by the public sector would help prevent millions being lost to those fraudsters who attack the benefits system in the same way.

As Richard Hurley, concluded: "These figures prove irrefutably that the old maxim of ‘knowledge is power' is correct. Knowing somebody's personal or financial details is a licence to print money for the modern fraudster and the inexorable spread of data driven financial crime is deeply disturbing.

"We all have the right to demand that organisations which have our details are secure and look after them, but we also all have a responsibility to look after our own details. Without doing so, we are effectively handing access to our bank accounts over to a complete stranger."