Identity Theft and Fraud: Learning from the USA
New report written by leading criminologist Professor Martin Gill and commissioned by Capital One suggests that free annual credit reports would enable consumers to monitor their accounts and take action as appropriate.Professor Gill's report looks at how the UK might better tackle the growing issue of identity theft by appraising measures introduced in the US.
A key recommendation made in the report is for the Government to set out a clear strategy for the sharing of data between agencies and the private sector.
Professor Gill's report also suggests that consumers who fear that they have become victims of identity theft could require that a fraud alert be put on their credit report files. This would alert anyone accessing that file to potential frauds.
Professor Martin Gill, leading criminologist and director of Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International, who wrote the report said: “Ideally, credit reference agencies should be responsible for sharing the fraud alert among themselves, and so saving I.D. theft victims the hassle of having to contact each credit reference agency individually.”
Under current UK law, identity theft is not yet recognised as a crime category. However, this is currently being addressed by the Fraud Bill. But the report questions whether the Police have the necessary resources to tackle ID theft even after being given greater legal powers.
The report states that the US has taken a more rigorous approach to identity theft and sentences for convicted ID thieves can extend to life imprisonment.
Ideas that may be adapted from the American experience to improve the response in the UK are listed below:
• Better education for Police on ID theft - there are attempts to educate law enforcement about identity theft and fraud but not everyone feels that these are sufficient, including within the police, and that the financial sector needs to consider a co-ordinated strategy or a more focused one.
• A clear Police strategy - the Police could publish a strategy document outlining how they intend to tackle identity theft and fraud. A strategy should outline the role of businesses, community groups, and individuals in supporting police activities.
• Record offences in victim's locality - to ensure offences are recorded it should be made clear that incidents of identity theft and fraud are deemed to have been committed in the locality where the victim lives.
• Common method for recording details of ID theft - this will facilitate data sharing beyond the financial sector. Indeed, it is important that means are found to facilitate data sharing with public and private bodies.
• Fraud alert be put on their credit report files - consumers who fear that they have become victims of identity theft could have a fraud alert be put on their credit report files. This would alert anyone accessing that file to potential frauds.
• Clearer definitions between identity theft and identity fraud - identity theft and identity fraud are different offences with different remedies and it is not helpful - and can often be confusing - to treat them as if they are the same.
Professor Martin Gill added, “The consequences for ID theft victims can be very severe and it is clear that in the UK things are not being made difficult enough for offenders. What have emerged are some suggestions for debate that may guide the development of better practice.”
Dan Cobley of Capital One said: “Professor Gill's report provides ample food for thought on how ID theft could be combated in the UK. The fact is that unless we look at new ways of dealing with the problem it may continue to grow. As a starting point, there is a strong opportunity for more financial services companies to offer free identity theft assistance. Since we launched this service it has been extremely well received.”
Identity theft is one of the UK's fastest growing crimes. It is facilitated by the ease with which offenders can gain information and personal documentation about people. Given that millions of items of mail are lost each year, the dangers are clear.
Detective Chief Inspector Oliver Shaw of the City of London Police Economic Crime Department added
“Martin Gill's research is extremely useful in highlighting the key issues facing the Police and law enforcement agencies.
It is clear that the term 'Identity Theft' is a misunderstood classification of this problem, and one which has led to difficulties in assessing both the scale of criminality and our response to it.
The comparisons made in the report between the UK and US are particularly valuable. The US has taken a very positive stance on this issue; recognising the real suffering and harm experienced by the victims of identity offences.
Martin's work also strengthens the need for a strategic review of UK law; and I welcome his contribution to the debate around targeted legislation. His findings are particularly relevant following publication of the Government's proposed Fraud Bill which, if passed, will greatly assist in the fight against this corrosive and increasingly widespread problem.”
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