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ID thieves thrive on financial indifference

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An apathetic and careless approach to finances by some British consumers is making fraud far easier.

A survey out today suggests that more than eight million Britons would willingly disclose vital personal information to a cold caller. Men (22 per cent) are far more likely to give out information needed to commit identity fraud than women (14.5 per cent).

Many people wouldn’t think twice about sharing the two pieces of personal information ‘most wanted’ by identity thieves: their mother’s maiden name (20 per cent) and their date of birth (46.4 per cent).

Those with their heads in the sand when it comes to keeping tabs on finances could find cash and personal information swiped from under their noses without them even noticing.

The online survey of 2,500 UK consumers by credit reference firm Experian also revealed one in seven Brits could lose £500 from their bank balance without spotting it.

Anxiety could be preventing us from keeping a closer eye on our finances: one in three Britons feel apprehensive when checking their bank balance or credit card statement, with five per cent going so far as admitting genuine fear.

This lackadaisical approach to money management makes punters easy picking for criminals, especially those who use stolen identities to obtain credit, goods and services, the UK’s fastest growing crime.

ID thieves often harvest financial information from garages or other places where people discard credit card receipts and the like.

One in ten Brits admit to simply throwing financial documents in their bin without shredding or even ripping them up, putting themselves at serious risk from ‘bin-raiding’ fraudsters. Less than half (45 per cent) follow recommended best practice for managing documents, with many storing documents insecurely. Meanwhile one in ten have no system at all for storing or managing their financial documents at home.

Carte blanche for crooks

Experian says its survey points to widespread financial apathy among Joe Public, which is giving fraudsters what amounts to carte blanche.

Jill Stevens, director of consumer relations, said: “More than ever, consumers need to be extra careful about how they dispose of and disclose personal financial information, to ensure they stay safe from fraudsters. Think twice before disclosing personal or financial information to cold-callers, even if they claim to be from your bank or an official organisation – always phone the organisation back with the number you have for them, not the number you’ve been given.”

“Identity fraud can significantly damage your credit history and victims can have terrible trouble getting a mortgage, a credit card or a bank loan for several years in some cases."

Experian has developed CreditExpert, an online service designed to help people keep tabs on their finances more easily.

CreditExpert notifies subscribers when an application for credit is made in their name, helping to protect punters possible identity theft.

“It’s all about empowering people with the tools and the intelligence they need to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters and to manage their credit most effectively,” said Stevens.

Which is all well and good, but we still believe – as we did when CreditExpert launched last year – that the banking industry needs to do more in clamping down on ID fraud, before credit is extended to crooks. ®

Identity Fraud Facts and Figures

  • Identity fraud in the UK increased by 31.6 per cent between Dec 2002 and Dec 2003, making it the UK’s fastest growing crime

  • An estimated 43,000 UK citizens were the victims of identity fraud last year

  • Identity fraud costs the UK at least £1.3bn every year, according to a July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper

  • On average, it can take over a year before punters find out they are a victim of identity fraud, according to Experian. Identity fraud can significantly damage your credit history, it warns.
Related stories
Credit checkers launch ID fraud watch services
UK credit card fraud down 8%
Chip and PIN hits 8 million cards
E-crime costs UK business billions
Online fraud, ID theft soars
UK ID theft gang jailed for £350K fraud

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