The number of reported UK victims of identity theft continues to rise, according to new data released by credit-checking agency Experian.
In the UK, 2,124 people contacted the agency's helpline for victims of identity theft in the second half of 2006, a 69% increase on the same period in 2005.
About 45% of the victims were alerted to a problem by a financial services company that noticed unusual activity, Experian said. Forty-one percent found out through their credit report. The rest found out either after a refusal of credit, a theft or through notices they were being awarded credit they had not personally requested.
Experian said ID fraud had shifted from small-time crooks digging in rubbish bins to sophisticated operations that are exploiting security weaknesses in internet applications to collect information on victims, among other means. The personal information is then used to apply for loans and buy merchandise.
Criminals are increasingly using a person's current address when applying for credit rather than a previous one, which increases the chances of a successful credit application, said Gary Wood, managing director of Experian's fraud prevention business.
But it is also bolder, requiring the thief to intercept a credit card before it reaches the person's letterbox, for example. This is often accomplished by temporarily redirecting post to another address, Wood said.
Companies such as Experian sell software to financial institutions that uses the company's consumer credit database to look for inconsistencies, such as address differences, in credit applications that may indicate fraud.
Not surprisingly, wealthy neighbourhoods are favoured by ID thieves, and residents there are also the slowest to notice fraud, Wood said.
Residents of exclusive neighbourhoods around Victoria Street in London's Westminster district were three and a half times more likely to be targeted for ID theft than the UK average, Experian said. Overall, Londoners were two and a half times more likely to be victimised.