News Analysis: NEW CRIME: Identity Theft ; They Don't Just Want Money. They Want Your Whole Life
Moreton, Report Cole, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
What did you say your name was? Really? It's just that there is someone about to board a flight at Heathrow with exactly the same name on their passport. They also have a driving licence with your details on it. And a couple of credit cards, a phone contract, a sports car bought on the never-never, dozens of store accounts and a whopping great loan, all taken out in your name. Not just the same name (this is no coincidence) but your actual full name, with your date and place of birth.
You didn't know? Well, how could you? No money has gone missing from your accounts, but your personal details and reputation have been used to run up a series of debts totalling more than pounds 100,000. Your credit rating is in tatters, so don't bother asking for a loan ever again. Meanwhile, the fake you is flying off to the sun, to vanish. Oh, was that a knock on the door? More like a hammering, actually. Must be the bailiffs.
If this scenario does not make you feel sick to the stomach then the chances are that you have already felt a lot worse, as one of the 120,000 people who had their identities stolen last year. Identity theft is a huge problem in this country and it is growing fast " the number of cases has risen sevenfold since 1999, it was revealed last week.
As MPs debated giving us identity cards, credit companies revealed that ID fraud costs the economy pounds 1.3bn a year. The really frightening thing is that it is so easy. To demonstrate, Neil Monroe of the credit rating agency Equifax has asked me to spread the contents of my bin bag all over his nice clean desk in a tower near Edgware Road tube. Not the used curry trays or brown banana skins " those have been left at home. The first slip-up is a magazine still in its wrapper.
'This could be trouble,' says Mr Monroe. 'It gives your full name and address, and the details of a company with which you have a subscription. There is nothing to stop someone ringing up, posing as you, and asking to check what bank account details they have for you.'
Surely they wouldn't give such information over the phone? 'You'd be shocked. Some companies do. Once the fraudster has got the bank details he can hack into any online accounts.'
But he hasn't got my password. 'No, but here's a discarded finger painting signed by your daughter, and a circular letter addressed to your wife. You might be using those names as passwords. Lots of people do.'
Blimey. It is no consolation that a survey in Wandsworth, south London, found that 77 per cent of householders had put out rubbish useful to ID thieves. These included cheque stubs, mortgage statements, even passports and a driving licence.
Gangs pay pounds 5 a time for useful documents scavenged from rubbish and recycling bins. The scavengers target areas where the houses are big, bank accounts probably not under strain and credit ratings good. Ripped bin bags are often blamed on urban foxes.
Shredding documents does not always help " cheaper machines produce long, thin lines of paper that can be stuck back together again. Utility bills can be forged and used to open a new bank account.
'Some institutions ask for no more proof of identity than that,' says Mr Monroe, 'particularly if you are making a deposit. The cleverer fraudsters keep the account in the black for a while to establish trust.'
They then tell the bank there has been a change of address, so mail is sent to a rented flat. The second 'you' has been created. It is time to start applying for things: a mobile phone account, a store card or six, a small loan.
Some fraudsters are not in it for the money: they need a new identity to commit bigamy, drive without insurance, work with children or hide from the police, the immigration services or the taxman. They can find out about their target's habits, friends and enthusiasms by typing the name into Google. …