Identity crime, both online and through real-world information theft, is in danger of running out of control and requires urgent government action to restore public confidence, said Mark Pritchard MP (Conservative - The Wrekin).
The MP who is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Technology Forum (CTF) said:
"E-crime is witnessing a sharp rise yet the government is, to date, bereft of any strategic policy to address the problem".
The theft of identities and the obtaining of monies by deception, on such a large scale, should not just be viewed as a financial crime but also as a national security issue, claims Pritchard, who is also a member of the Conservative Party's Homeland Security Group which is looking at national security, resilience and counter-terrorism policy.
Over recent weeks the BBC alleged that three UK banks are failing to prevent the possible theft of online customers' identity. Concern has been expressed that identity fraud has now become an industry in its own right with concomitant national security and border- control implications, with expert and highly organised criminal gangs, mass producing fake documents from personal information, which may be stolen or simply left in a rubbish bag outside the nearest high street bank.
Incidents of reported fraud in the UK have tripled in since 2003, according to BDO Stoy Hayward. The government is presently conducting a review of unreported fraud the UK, which is it describes as “chronic”.
Get Safe Online, an initiative supported by government, business and finance, reported this month that UK citizens fear they are more likely to become victims of online crime than they are to be mugged or burgled and the Channel 4 'Dispatches' programme alleged that the credit card details of hundreds of thousands of UK citizens can be clandestinely and illegally purchased through websites and call centres abroad.
Dr Simon Moores, the Chairman of the ecrime Congress that meets in London, each year, comments: "Identity theft will be a central theme of the ecrime Congress 2007 in March next year. Bringing together global law-enforcement, finance and business, we'll be exploring a problem which is not in danger of running out of control, it has run out of control and now defies the best efforts and initiatives of international government to contain it. A successful online economy and society behind it are built upon identity and trust and yet the general public can no longer be certain that any message or website is what it says it is. People are having their identities stolen or compromised in the tens of thousands, here and abroad, each month".
Moores reports that online banking fraud is a fast growing problem according to APACS - The Association of Payment and Clearing Systems - with losses from online fraud doubling in 2005, hitting £23.2m, due to the rise in email phishing scams. Last year internet, phone and mail-order transactions - and card-not-present fraud - rose by 21 per cent to £183.2m.
In the United States alone, adds Pritchard, identity theft for the third straight year topped the list of fraud complaints reported to the United States Federal Trade Commission. Consumers filed more than 255,000 identity theft reports to the FTC in 2005, accounting for more than a third of all complaints the agency received. In the UK, government remains slow to appreciate the size of the problem and the risk it poses to public confidence and our growing online economy.
The MP claims that because of a lack of government strategy criminals are prospering. "Whilst the government dithers criminals are enjoying a new golden era of fraud. On-line shopping for criminals is all the rage but these criminals are not shopping for books or CDs but for identities; identities from which they can obtain funds and new personas". The MP also claimed that the ease by which identities can be bought or stolen also had national security implications.
Police recently identified more than 50 websites offering high-quality fake passports, wage-slips and driving licenses but many such the internet sites are based overseas. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), head of business crime, Ian Johnston, has publicly stated that identity fraud linked to phone banking, internet shopping and transport systems had created such a problem that it could "slowly destroy the very fabric of our economy."