Identity theft 'a rising threat'

Nearly half of financial frauds being uncovered involve criminals trying to use someone else's stolen personal details, a credit checking company has warned.

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Some 25 out of every 10,000 card applications were detected as fraudulent in the first half of this year

Experian said that identity theft is a "significant and rising threat," accounting for 46% of financial frauds detected this year, which is almost double the rate of just over one-quarter (27%) of cases seen in 2012.

It urged consumers to keep a close eye on their personal details, which criminals often use to open accounts which they can then use as a "springboard" to take out lucrative credit.

Recent studies have suggested that improvements to fraud detection and new technology are driving criminals to resort to more "old-fashioned" methods such as pretending to be someone else.

Experian said that although attempts at identity theft are on the increase, financial firms are getting better at picking up frauds at the point when the criminal tries to makes an application.

It has seen a steep rise in the number of fraudulent credit card applications that were foiled. Some 25 out of every 10,000 card applications were detected as fraudulent in the first half of this year, up from 14 in every 10,000 applications in the first six months of 2012.

Known cases of savings account fraud have also risen to 17 in every 10,000 applications, from 13 in every 10,000 in the first half of 2012. Experian said the "vast majority" of savings account fraud involved identity theft, with criminals often trying to open these accounts for the purpose of money laundering.

A higher rate of cases involving motor finance fraud was also uncovered in the first half of the year. Some 21 in every 10,000 applications were found to be fraudulent, up from 17 in every 10,000 in the same period last year.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of these cases involved people trying to hide a poor credit history. Cases involving "fronting" are also on the increase. This tends to occur when a young person who would be more expensive to insure is the most frequent user on the car but the insurance firm is falsely told that their parent is the main driver.

Mortgage fraud continues to be the most common type of financial fraud detected, although cases are falling. In the first six months of this year, 31 in every 10,000 mortgage applications were found to be fraudulent, compared with 37 out of every 10,000 in the first half of 2012.

Almost one-quarter (23%) of mortgage frauds involved people trying to mask a bad credit history, making this the most common type of mortgage fraud, although Experian said it is seeing rising levels of people trying to hide the fact they are using a property for buy-to-let purposes.

Current account fraud was the only other area to see a marked fall in the number of bogus cases found, with 20 in every 10,000 applications found to be false, down from 44 in 10,000 in the first six months of 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of fraudulent insurance applications detected has reached a new peak of 14 false claims out of every 10,000 applications. Fraudulent loan applications continue to account for the fewest fraud cases among financial services, with just six out of every 10,000 applications discovered to be false.

Nick Mothershaw, UK and Ireland director of identity and fraud at Experian, said that financial services companies are increasingly working with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which is overseen by the City of London Police and uses millions of fraud reports to identify serial fraudsters, organised gangs and emerging crime threats.

He said the sector is also investing more into improved fraud controls which will allow companies to detect and prevent more cases.

Mr Mothershaw said: "Although better systems are in place, both lenders and consumers need to remain constantly vigilant, especially against the rising threat of identity theft."

He continued: "Consumers need to keep a close eye on their personal credit information and, where possible, take every practicable step to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft."

Experian's fraud index is based on information from fraud prevention systems National Hunter and Insurance Hunter, which Experian manages on behalf of its clients. The systems enable financial firms to cross-match applications against more than 100 million previous application records to spot signs of fraud.