September 6, 2005
New Technology May Increase Identity Theft
DUBLIN -- New technology could increase rather than solve the problem of identity theft and fraud, a British criminologist warned on Monday.
Identity cards and chip and pin technology for credit cards will force fraudsters to be more creative and are unlikely to alleviate the problem.
Dr Emily Finch, of the University of East Anglia in England, said dependence on technology was leading to a breakdown in individual vigilance, which experts believe is one of the best ways to prevent fraud and identity theft.
"There is a worrying assumption that advances in technology will provide the solution to identity theft whereas it is possible that they may actually aggravate the problem," she told the British Association science conference.
"Fraudsters adapt their behavior to suit the circumstances."
Finch, who interviewed criminals about why and how they commit crimes and the impact new technology is likely to have on them, found fraudsters were tenacious and would change their methods to elude new security measures.
"Studying the way that individuals disclose sensitive information would be far more valuable in preventing identity fraud than the evolution of technologically advanced but ultimately fallible measures to prevent misuse of personal information after it has been obtained," she added.
Data from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Survey Report released two years ago showed that 4.6 percent of 4,000 randomly selected people questioned in a poll had been the victim of some form of identity theft in the past year.
Finch said fraud and identify theft was not always done for financial reasons. Sometimes people wanted to start again with a new identity.
Identity cards could potentially increase fraudulent behavior, she warned. In June, the British government introduced legislation for national identity cards, saying they would counter terrorism, crime and illegal immigration. But critics say the scheme is expensive, unnecessary and intrusive.
"What fraudsters know about is human nature," said Finch. "And they adapt to things like the Internet which provides an absolutely fantastic base to access personal information."
She also has doubts about chip and pin technology which allows consumers to punch in a personal number rather than use a signature for credit and debit card purchases.
Instead of watching an individual punch in the code and stealing the card, criminals are snatching credit card application forms and getting new cards and numbers, she added.