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By adding less than two seconds to an e-commerce process, website operators can now check the age, identity and vital status of customers against the UK Electoral Roll, BT directory enquiries, a credit reference database and a mortality database.

The new service to reduce card fraud and assist compliance with legal age restrictions comes from payment service provider Metacharge. Working with 192.com it integrates the automated age and identity checking service with payment processing.

It isn't cheap: at £1.50 per query, Metacharge is targeting only the high-risk operators, in particular the online gaming industry. But the London-based company also points out that fraudulent card usage is costing over £1m a day in the UK.

Managing Director Scott Law told OUT-LAW that online gaming "is a magnet for fraud". He said that the fastest growing form of identity theft is not phishing; it is taking the identities of dead people and using them to get credit. So a check against a mortality database tells an offshore internet casino if its latest poker player is a corpse.

"Anyone with age-restricted goods or services or high value items, like consumer electronics, can benefit," said Law. It may also be of interest to banks taking online credit card applications, although Law is focusing on his gaming industry customer base for now.

This customer base has a good opportunity for growth over the next two years.

Currently, it is legal for British residents to bet or gamble online from home. About 800,000 adults do so every month, according to the Department of Culture Media and Sport. It is also legal to run a site in the UK that takes bets for, e.g., horseracing.

However, it is not lawful for a company to run an online casino if its equipment and payment processing are in Britain because the Gaming Act of 1968 requires punters to be present in person where the gaming is taking place. This is set to change.

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