An initiative championed by a consumer to slash the number of identity theft victims has been adopted by one of the UK's top credit reference agencies.Equifax introduced the scheme, which will be free to the public, in February. The two other major agencies, Experian and Call Credit, are expected to follow suit.
The change allows consumers to ask their credit agency to put a statement, called a Notice of Correction, on their credit file. The user will then use this space to submit a thumbprint to authenticate their signature.
Once a criminal has stolen someone’s personal details they often make false applications for loans and credit cards. Under the new system, any signature the customer makes on a financial document must be authenticated by the thumbprint.
Potential lenders carrying out a credit check will be able to reject any applications without the accompanying print, according to campaigner Jamie Jamieson, who has promoted the plan for the past three years.
“You need to tell all lenders, via your credit file held by the agencies, that applications in your name for financial products must be accompanied by your thumbprint or they should be treated as fraudulent,” he said. “If a lender gives out any type of credit in your name and your thumbprint was not on the application, you are not liable.”
However, the thumbprint is not checked by the credit lender to ensure it is the correct person.
“We believe that this will act as a deterrent to ID fraudsters,” said Neil Munroe, external affairs director for Equifax. “Obviously it is the responsibility of the lenders to act upon the information on an individual’s credit report, but we think this new initiative will play a valuable role in reducing the opportunities for fraudsters.”
However, Munroe warns that this system could delay any genuine credit applications.
“This scheme may not work for everyone,” he admitted. “For example, people who make a lot of applications online or younger customers who want credit quickly. Because the application will be referred for checks and the process will be slower.”
Jamieson added: “This is a very small price to pay for added security.”
In a further boost to the plans, MP Robert Goodwill, will call on the Home Secretary John Reid to back the idea during a parliamentary question this week.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the UK, costing more than £1.7 billion every year, according to government figures.