Number of identity theft victims 'rises by a third'

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Media caption,

The BBC's Angus Crawford goes on the trail of identity fraudsters

The number of people falling victim to identity theft in the UK has risen by almost a third, new figures suggest.

The BBC has learned that criminals are increasingly using internet forums to buy and sell data.

They use the information to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards and commit fraud in other people's names.

Fraud prevention agency Cifas said the number of victims rose by 31% to 32,058 in the first three months of 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.

Identity theft occurs when criminals abuse the personal data or identity details of an innocent victim to impersonate them or to create a fake identity, in order to buy products or services.

One online investigator told BBC News' Angus Crawford that criminals are heading to online "fraud forums" to swap tips as well as buy and sell credit cards, passports and email addresses.

Forums will typically sell real credit cards with date of birth detail for as little as £5, he said.

'Never even heard of H&M'

Image caption,
Criminals stole the identity of Barbara Evans to buy goods from H&M

One of the identities being bought and sold online belongs to an 80-year-old woman.

Barbara Evans and her husband have never even heard of the Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). But apparently she has an H&M account, and someone is using it to buy clothes.

Her husband told BBC News that criminals used a stolen passport to open a credit account in her name.

They then changed the delivery address from her home address in Wales to a flat in South East London.

Cifas said that more than 80% of identity theft in the first three months of 2015 was attempted or perpetrated online.

The group's research showed that criminals mainly used people's identities to set up new credit cards and bank accounts - these accounted for 41% and 27% of all identity theft cases respectively.

The average age for both male and female identity theft victims was 46 years old.

However, Cifas warned that the 21-30 age group continue to be increasingly targeted - with the number of victims in that age bracket up 26% from 2014.

Darren Innes, chief executive of due diligence company C6 Intelligence, told BBC News that the crime can be "traumatic" for victims.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
More than a quarter of adults are thought to have been a victim at some point

Mr Innes said: "You're going to be spending an awful lot of time getting the money back.

"You may still be liable and there have been many cases where people have still had to pay bills, even though it has had nothing to do with them in the first place... The mental anguish is quite severe."

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police announced that under new legislation officers across the UK can now arrest people who supply specialist printing equipment or materials - such as identity card printers, printer ribbons, embossers and hot foil presses.

The Met said organised criminals use printers costing around £1,000 to create convincing passports, driver's licences and bank cards.

The genuine versions are produced on higher quality printers, under strict controls.

How to protect yourself from identity crimes

  • Limit the amount of personal information you give away on social networking sites. Your real friends know where you live and know your birthday
  • Update your computer's firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes. Up to 80% of cyber threats can be removed by doing this
  • Never share passwords or PINs (personal identification numbers) with others and do not write them down
  • Use strong passwords and PINs - don't use your date of birth or your child's name, include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Aim for a minimum of 10 characters in a password
  • Do not use the same password or PIN for more than one account
  • Shred all your financial documents before you throw them away

Source: Cifas

'Growing menace'

Det Supt Jayne Snelgrove, who leads the Met's fraud and cyber team, said: "False IDs are used to carry out crime, hide criminal identities and allow people to live in the UK illegally.

"People with false IDs are in jobs they should not be in, potentially posing a risk to vulnerable people. They are accessing money they have no right to and living where they ought not be."

Det Supt Snelgrove said the new legislation, which was proposed in 2012 by the Met in partnership with the specialist printing industry, would make life "a lot tougher" for identity fraudsters.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, said identity crime was a "growing menace that costs people in the UK billions of pounds every year".

He added: "More than a quarter of adults are thought to have been a victim at some point and this is clearly unacceptable".

The police, alongside High Street banks, are running a campaign to make customers more aware of the threat of fraud.

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