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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fraudsters target UK credit card users

By James Gladstone

London has been named and shamed as the credit card fraud capital of the UK for the second year running, according to figures recently released. Insurance company CPP reported that 38% of the capitals credit card users had been the victim of fraud in 2008 " a jump of 10% on previous figures. In just 12 months nearly three million people had their identities stolen and their credit and debit cards scammed. This number constitutes a third of all credit card fraud in Britain and is on the rise. The average amount stolen was 650, although some people suffered much higher losses. Often completely unaware that they had been the victims of criminal activity, the first customers knew of the attack was when notified of it by their bank.

These frightening statistics show how easy it is for fraudsters to get hold of personal details including credit card details, pin numbers and other sensitive information. Online fraud is a continuing problem with many falling victim to convincing emails pertaining to be from legitimate banks asking for customers to confirm their details online. Once the victim has responded the fraudsters have immediate access to their details and can begin emptying accounts and running up credit card debts.

However, there is a very easy way to protect yourself against this kind of attack and that is never respond to any email asking you to confirm sensitive information. No bank will ever ask you to do this legitimately either by phone or by email, so you can be sure those that do are scams. If you have any doubts, contact your bank directly. The growth of online auction sites and Internet shopping has given criminals a new route into peoples personal details, but again it is fairly easy to carry out a few basic checks to ensure that the site you are using is secure. A secure site should have a URL address that includes the prefix https and a padlock icon in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. If these are missing then the site is unsecured and so are your credit card details.

Skimming credit cards has become an increasing problem in Britains busy high streets and 21% of credit card fraud is a result of this practice. The insertion of readers that skim the details of your credit card as you use an automatic cash dispenser or a small camera that photographs pin numbers as they are punched in are examples of increasingly high tech methods employed by fraudsters. If an ATM machine shows any indication of being tampered with, avoid using the machine and report your suspicions to the bank. Covering the keypad with your hand is a very low-tech way of beating any spy cameras that may be trying to photograph your pin number as you enter it.

Passwords are another weak link in the chain, with many people using the same password for all their Internet activities. The problems can start once this password becomes common knowledge to a fraudster as they will then test its use against your other activities. Keep your passwords secure at all times and dont go for the obvious such as pets names or mothers maiden names. All of these are simple measures that the average person can take to give themselves a level of protection against fraud, but what are the banks doing to ensure that your details are safe?

After a flurry of reports about personal banking details being left in rubbish bags for refuse collection, the banks and financial institutions are now much more conscientious over the security of their customers details. They are also working much more closely with the Police serious fraud and high-tech units in an attempt to combat the rising tide of fraud and identity theft. It is a continuous battle as many of the fraudsters operate outside the UK. But by pulling together in a concerted effort perhaps the UK can shake off its reputation of being an easy target for the cyber-criminals and fraudsters and secure the general publics details from prying eyes.

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