Identity fraud reaching epidemic levels, new figures show

Identity theft has reached epidemic levels in the UK, with incidents of this type of fraud running at almost 500 a day, according to the latest figures.

During the first six months of this year there were a record 89,000 cases of identity fraud, which typically involves criminals pretending to be an individual in order to steal their money, buy items or take out a loan or car insurance in their name.

The fraud prevention service Cifas, which issued the data, said these crimes were taking place almost exclusively online, and that the vast amount of personal data available on the internet and as a result of data breaches “is only making it easier for the fraudster”.

Simon Dukes, the Cifas chief executive, said: “We have seen identity fraud attempts increase year on year, now reaching epidemic levels, with identities being stolen at a rate of almost 500 a day … Criminals are relentlessly targeting consumers and businesses, and we must all be alert to the threat and do more to protect personal information.”

Identity fraud is one of the fastest-growing types of cybercrime, and experts say criminals are using increasingly sophisticated tactics. Fraudsters have increasingly been hacking into email accounts and then posing as a builder, solicitor or other tradesperson that the consumer has legitimately employed. Some customers have lost considerable sums after being duped into sending money to the bank accounts of criminals.

In many cases, victims do not even realise they have been targeted until a bill arrives for something they did not buy, or they experience problems with their credit rating when applying for a mortgage or loan.

To carry out this kind of crime successfully, fraudsters need access to their victim’s personal information such as name, date of birth, address and bank. Fraudsters get hold of this in a variety of ways, from stealing letters and hacking emails to obtaining data on the “dark web”, and exploiting some people’s willingness to share every detail of their life on social media.

There have been cases of people being targeted after posting a photo of their new debit or credit card on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – which means their 16-digit number, expiry date, cardholder name, account number and sort code are all on display, giving a fraudster much of what they need to steal that individual’s identity.

The 89,000 identity frauds recorded – which may underestimate the true situation, as some people are too embarrassed to report incidents and may decide to write off any loss – is up 5% on the same period last year.

While more than half of all identity fraud cases involve bank accounts and plastic cards, the latest figures show a sharp rise in incidents involving motor insurance: 2,070 during the latest six months, compared with 20 during the same period in 2016.

The Insurance Fraud Bureau said it believed most of these cases were likely to involve people taking out fake motor policies – typically bought online from illegal “ghost brokers” – in order to avoid having to buy a genuine policy.

Cifas data is included in official crime statistics, and every day it sends about 800 fraud cases to the City of London police for potential investigation.

Its advice to consumers includes:

• Set privacy settings across all social media channels, and think twice before sharing details such as full date of birth.

• Password protect devices. Keep passwords complex by picking three random words, such as “roverducklemon,” and add or split them with symbols, numbers and capitals.

• Install anti-virus software on laptops and any other personal devices and keep it up to date.

• Download updates to software when prompted to – they often add enhanced security features.