National Identity Fraud
Prevention Week ran from the 17th-23rd October last year for
the first time. There was a great deal of publicity
regarding identity fraud as might have been expected but was
it perhaps a case of “too much information”?
It is certainly understandable that a great deal of
information was given about how to prevent identity fraud
and what to do if you fell victim to it. However, there was
also a great deal of information given that would certainly
help the criminally-inclined who might otherwise never have
thought that this was a way to make some easy money.
Identity theft is growing fast, costing around £1.7
billion and affecting up to 100,000 people each year.
Strangely, it's not a crime at the moment although the
Government is considering making it one. It only becomes a
crime when a stolen identity is actually used to obtain
goods and services by deception at which point it becomes
known as identity fraud.
Almost 20% of consumers in the USA admit to falling
victim to identity theft. Younger adults are most at risk
according to Experian-Gallup Personal Credit Index published
on the 4th August 2005. Identity theft in the UK is rapidly
on the up, with an increase of 165% over the available
figures for 2004 according to Credit reference agency
However, is it any wonder that this particular crime is
on the increase, when so much detailed information is given
as to how identity thieves go about their task? I am
reminded of an article I read in one of the tabloid
newspapers only a few months ago, in which a convicted
burglar, originally from Eastern Europe, explained how he
had learnt valuable tips of the trade from, of all places, a
The same could be said about identity theft but this
information is not confined to police websites. If you were
to type in “identity theft” into the Google UK search
engine, you would see that this returns some 775,000
results. Now not all of these results are specifically about
identity theft. However thousands of these results describe
in detail how easily identity thieves go about stealing
other people’s identities.
UK credit reference agency Experian, in co-operation with
the London Borough of Camden, analysed the contents of the
dustbins of 327 domestic homes and 71 companies and
organisations to assess the potential for identity fraud
(apparently bin raiders in certain parts of London are paid
up to £5 a document by would-be identity thieves). Some of
the information found included the names, addresses and
mobile telephone numbers of well known film and television
stars that had been discarded by a film and theatrical
agency. Photocopies of passports with passport numbers,
dates of birth and photographs of customers had been thrown
out by a travel agent. Full financial details of applicants
for courses at an educational establishment had been put
into dustbins. Detailed scaled plans of NHS hospitals and
other public buildings had been thrown out by an architect.
Full medical records of the patients of a doctor’s surgery
had been thrown away. Signed witness statements and sworn
affidavits had been discarded by a barrister’s chambers. A
PR company had thrown out embargoed press releases and bank
account details of its clients. A mortgage broker had
discarded numerous completed mortgage applications
containing full financial details of its clients.
Apart from the above, one in ten domestic households was
found to have discarded a compete combination of credit or
debit card number, with expiry date, issue number and
signature. Many other assorted articles were also found in
this selection of dustbins including mortgage statements,
bank account numbers and balances, a cheque book complete
with ten cheques, an uncashed cheque, medical information,
an MP’s signature, CVs, driving licences and a death
certificate. Jill Stevens, Consumer Relations Director at
Experian, commented “….as consumers, we are all still
binning far too much personal information which can and is
being used by fraudsters to fuel the current boom in ID
Only very recently, in February this year, two identity
fraudsters got confidential information about comedian Harry
Hill, 41, from a bank clerk and used it to set up an
internet account in his name. They then siphoned cash from
the comedian's genuine Halifax accounts into the bogus one.
In one month a series of large sums were transferred out of
the online account to various beneficiaries and stolen.
Hill, whose account was in his real name of Dr Matthew Hall,
discovered the theft when he visited his Halifax branch in
Battersea, South London, to query the transactions.
The stand-up comic was one of five wealthy clients
targeted. The unnamed conmen got their confidential details
from Sharmane Dillon, 23, a Halifax customer adviser. Dillon
claimed the men, who were not caught, threatened her with
violence. They sent her the names of chosen victims by text
message and she searched the computer database for dates of
births and answers to security questions.
Prosecutor Andrew Evans told Harrow crown court that one
conman then posed as Hill to alter the bank's records of his
address. He said: "It was changed to somewhere in Woolwich.
A code was then issued to that address which enabled
fraudulent transactions." Almost £500,000 was taken from the
customers. About £150,000 was recovered. The bank refunded
Dillon, who worked in Wembley, admitted passing on
customer details but denied plotting fraud. She denied the
charge of conspiracy to defraud saying she did not profit
from the crime, and only took part because the conmen had
threatened to hurt her family and slit her throat if she did
However a jury at Harrow Crown Court found the
23-year-old guilty by a majority verdict . The fraudsters
themselves were not caught. Judge Susan Tapping told her:
‘It would be very wrong if I didn't warn you that a
custodial sentence is very much on the cards for this
Four other accounts were targeted in the sting, which
netted more than £578,000 in 2004; although all the victims
have got their money back. She was released on bail and will
be sentenced next month.
Last year another comedian, Ricky Gervais, was also a
victim of identity fraud when a picture taken from the cover
of a DVD was used in a stolen passport.
So where does this leave you? If you can’t even trust the
staff at your bank it doesn’t leave too much hope. MPs
recently voted to bring in voluntary ID cards. Presumably
criminals will choose to opt out given the choice. But apart
from biometric ID cards what can you do to protect your
It has been suggested on a Home Office website that
also contribute to protecting against identity theft.