Identity theft and fraud still rising at alarming rate

Incidents of identity theft and cyber-fraud are increasing in line with the overall growth in recorded frauds, according to a report by the fraud prevention service, Cifas.

One in four consumers hit by ID theft
One in four consumers hit by ID theft

Cifas is a specified anti-fraud organisation under the Serious Crime Act 2007 and provides a specific legal gateway for public and private sector data sharing.

According to the Cifas research, fraud showed a 25 percent increase, rising from 221,075 incidents in 2013 to 276,993 frauds in 2014.

Identity fraud accounted for 41 percent of all frauds recorded in 2014. Key trends were:

  • 113,839 identity frauds were recorded in 2014, a five percent increase on 2013.
  • The average age of victims was 46 and men were 1.7 times more likely than women to have their identity stolen.
  • While the young are still less likely to become victims of identity theft, there is a worrying increase in the number of young adults aged between 21 and 30 falling prey to the scammers.
  • Among the over-55s, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of victims, up from 22,004 in 2013 to 25,346 in 2014.

It has become more difficult to take over existing bank accounts due to better security, so it appears the fraudsters are creating false identities to enable them to open new ones.

Simon Dukes, Cifas chief executive, said that it appears fraud is being perpetrated by increasingly well-organised criminals operating on an industrial scale.

“We need to redouble our efforts to fight fraud across sectors and to educate consumers and people of all ages,” he said. “Fraudsters don't operate in silos, and neither can we. We also need better data – this data is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the scale of fraud in the UK.”

City of London Police Commander, Steve Head, ACPO lead for identity crime, said the increase in the fraud statistics is due to a real increase in fraud plus an increased willingness among individual and companies to report it.

“We really need to get to grips with the problem of identity fraud, both as a crime in its own right and as a major facilitator for other types of fraud,” Head said.

Identity theft can have a devastating effect on victims. Bennett Arron, a comedian from Wales whose identity was stolen, said it took two years to clear his name. 

He produced a documentary for Channel 4 and has even written a book about it but still feels it is not taken seriously as a crime. “Just because nothing tangible has been taken does not mean it's not as serious a crime. When it happened to me I lost everything and became penniless and homeless. My credit rating was zero and for over two years I was virtually unable to do anything,” he said.

“I have campaigned for tougher sentences against these criminals and for companies and financial institutions to understand the severity of the crime and the long term affects it can have on victims,” Arron said. 

Alan Batey, digital forensic consultant, Security Risk Management Ltd, said: “The increase in fraud and in particular identity theft comes as no surprise as we continue to become reliant on the digital world.”

“Education of people is still the best way forward to prevent the continued rise in identity theft but we also need law enforcement agencies including the Police who are trained to deal with reports from the public and can effectively deal with such crimes as they would any other volume crime,” Batey added.

In its report, Cifas called for measures to improve research and education on fraud:

  • A national standard for measuring fraud losses and levels
  • More research to determine where crucial data is lost
  • Understanding the role of organised crime
  • A joint government-industry education campaign
  • A comprehensive review of sentencing guidelines for fraud
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