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It was already at epidemic levels but now identity fraud in the UK has gone up by a record 25% in just a year.
It’s a rate of increase that’s not just astonishing – but horrifying too.
The figure is the headline finding in a new report from Cifas, a leading fraud prevention service, based on analysis of 409,000 recorded cases of fraudulent conduct recorded to the National Fraud Database in 2022.
Their report, entitled Fraudscape, reveals that last year saw the highest volume of cases of fraudulent conduct ever recorded there.
And of these, cases of identity fraud soared by 23%, and now account for 68% of all recorded fraud.
It seems that the tougher the general economic climate, the more fraud increases – so that just when ordinary people are struggling with soaring food and energy bills, they are also more likely than ever to be targeted by fraudsters.
And what’s happening in the UK in this context is almost certainly mirrored globally.
One recent study , for example, found that as many as a third of Americans have been victims of some form of identity theft.
What seems to be driving this fraud boom is that more people are turning to credit to cope with rising bills – leading to soaring numbers of credit card applications – which in turn makes new targets for the fraudsters.
Typical is the ‘fake phone dealer’ scam in which victims fall for apparently beat-the-high-street phone upgrades. The victim is lured by the promise of this supposedly bargain deal on a new handset into revealing personal information – PIN numbers and so on – which the fraudsters can use to access their accounts and start moving cash. They then hit them for all they can get.
For the younger demographic, the more prevalent fraudulent behaviour is so-called money mule scams: in these, an individual allows a third party – usually a serious criminal like a drug dealer or someone handling large quantities of stolen goods – to transfer money into their account to launder it, keeping a slice for their own commission.
This has been recorded 40,000 times with the key age being 21-25 and social media a key enabler in recruitment.
And, finally, as well as being used to entice victims, the telecoms sector is also falling victim itself. This is because it’s one of the industries hit by a surge in so-called false application cases – where applicants for new accounts conceal information or supply fake documentation like altered bank statements to appear credit worthy when they are anything but. This type of fraudulent conduct rose even more steeply than identity fraud – going up by 40% in 2022.
As well as landing new phone handsets and contracts in this way, the bogus applicant might also apply for a loan, a mortgage or credit.
All of which paints an alarming picture of the sheer prevalence of fraud.
It comes in so many guises and forms – victims are deceived in new ways all the time – that there are simply too many to list.
For businesses, the best way to navigate through these treacherous waters is to install the most robust security systems – and that means scrutinising any or all numbers you are commercially in contact with. Ensure that you do a deep search of any phone number attempting to operate on your platform: is the user who they purport to be? Does their data history corroborate this? Are they right now where they are claiming to be – or somewhere else? And so on.
Live data from the phone companies themselves is the single most reliable way of vetting for fraud. Because real people with real lives behave very differently to fraudsters on burner phones. Their data history reflects this. So with the right tools it becomes relatively easy to distinguish between the two – done in a split second and very cheaply.
For individuals rather than businesses, however, access to this facility is not yet widely available so you need to do everything else you can to protect yourself.
Start by cultivating skepticism about offers. The adage that ‘if it seems too good to be true it probably is’ applies now more than ever. Don’t trust first appearances. If you can find something simply via a Google search that takes you to a website, that isn’t alone enough to assume it’s legally run and regulated.
And if someone you don’t really know beyond them appearing cool on Instagram offers you a great deal to do them a favor with a bank transfer – remind yourself that there’s every chance they are a front for some pretty serious criminals, and you could be getting yourself into a world of pain.
Finally, look to try to carry out your transactions in these safe spaces. Because if you are on a platform where the fraudsters are kept out in this way, you are immediately much, much safer. Be suspicious of deals on social media – look instead to more trustworthy platforms where mobile numbers and their owners are scrutinised.
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