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Thousands of cases of identity fraud could be prevented if financial services companies and credit reference agencies shared more data, according to a report from a leading criminologist.
Professor Martin Gill said criminals behind ID fraud, now the fastest growing type of theft in the UK, were exploiting the fact that people's credit files contain different information, depending on which company holds them.
The three main credit reference agencies in the UK do not even share information about people who have become victims of identity theft. As a consequence, anyone targeted by fraudsters has to contact each agency individually to warn creditors, increasing the likelihood of theft.
"Credit reference agencies should be responsible for sharing the fraud alert among themselves, saving ID theft victims the hassle of contacting each agency individually," Professor Gill said.
"Consumers who fear that they have become victims of identity theft could require that a fraud warning be put on all their credit report files, which would alert anyone accessing that file to potential frauds."
Professor Gill's report also called for all consumers to be given access to their credit files free of charge at least once a year, to enable them to identify rogue information that might relate to fraud.
"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," he said.
Figures from Cifas, an organisation set up by the consumer credit industry to combat fraud, show there were 130,000 cases of identity fraud last year, up from 101,000 in 2003.
Many police forces say they have not been given sufficient powers to fight this type of crime.
Detective Chief Inspector Oliver Shaw, of the City of London Police's Economic Crime Department, said one problem was that identity theft was not yet recognised as a crime category by legislators.
"Professor Gill's report strengthens the need for a strategic review of UK law," he said.
"The term identity theft is a misunderstood classification of the problem that has led to difficulties in assessing both the scale of criminality and our response to it."
By David Prosser
New Zealand Herald