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Fraud increase driven exclusively by identity crime

The analysis of fraud trends during 2012 by Cifas – the UK's Fraud Prevention Service reveals a 5% increase in the overall level of fraud, when compared with the previous year. While the rate of the increase has slowed from 2011, further key findings present a more complex picture of the true state of the economic crime landscape in the UK:

  • Nearly 250,000 confirmed frauds were identified during 2012 by Cifas Members, the highest number of frauds ever recorded by Cifas Members and over 150,000 cases had an identifiable victim.
  • The continued blight of Identity Fraud accounts for roughly 50% of all frauds recorded in 2012.
  • The takeover of customer accounts increased by 53% from 2011, meaning that data driven identity crimes now constitute the vast majority of all fraud in the UK.
  • Conversely, frauds committed by the genuine account holder or applicant have all declined: the most notable being the decrease in fraudulent misuse of an account (Misuse of Facility fraud) which fell in 2012 by over 15% from the record levels seen in 2011. There has also been a fall in proven false insurance claims and instances of individuals submitting false details or documents in support of an application.

Fraud at new heights

The 5% increase in fraud levels recorded during 2012 serves as a reminder of the economic trials currently facing UK businesses and consumers. Nearly 250,000 frauds were identified in 2012. This represents a smaller rate of increase from the 9% surge recorded in 2011, but still constitutes the largest number of confirmed frauds ever recorded in a single year by organisations participating in the Cifas national fraud data sharing scheme.

Cifas Head of Communications, Kate Beddington-Brown, comments: “Fraud is frequently described as a victimless crime, but this is far from the truth. Whether it is an individual being impersonated, or public and private organisations losing funds due to fraudulent applications and transactions, the net effect is that the economic squeeze gets worse. Fraud acts as an impediment to business recovery and damages cashflow for us all; as losses incurred inevitably get passed on to society at large. The increase in fraud levels, therefore, might be seen as organisations getting better at rooting out fraud, but the implications are clear: increased fraud levels mean that organisations and individuals face a bigger problem than ever before.”


Identity crime: the fraudster’s biggest weapon

The fraudulent use of identity details (either those of an innocent victim or completely fictitious ones) is the biggest and most perturbing fraud threat. 50% of all frauds identified during 2012 relate to the impersonation of an innocent victim or the use of completely false identities.

Furthermore, Facility (or Account) Takeover Fraud – where a fraudster gains access to and hijacks the running of an account (e.g. theft of security details through computer hacking, interception of post details, social engineering through popular websites etc) – rocketed by 53% compared with the previous year. This means that those frauds where the criminal requires identity details accounted for almost 2 in 3 (65%) of all frauds in 2012. The number of victims of both types of fraud has – when combined – also risen by 24% from the levels in 2011; underlining the very real cost of these crimes.

Kate Beddington-Brown notes: “These increases serve as a warning and a challenge to organisations and consumers equally. Organisations have invested heavily in updating and refreshing their security processes recently, ensuring that extra steps are taken to validate the identity of people with whom they are dealing. In spite of this, however, identity crimes have continued to rise – demonstrating that far more must be done. Equally, for individuals, It is obvious that fraud relating to personal data is an immense criminal trade so, fundamentally, we all have to do all we can to ensure that we also protect ourselves from becoming a victim, as well as demanding that the organisations we deal with take their security responsibilities seriously.”


Frauds by account holders in decline

As problematic for organisations and the economy at large is fraud committed by the actual account holder. One piece of apparent good news, therefore, is that all frauds which come under this first party fraud heading declined in 2012: including misuse of facility fraud (where a legitimately obtained account is used fraudulently by the account holder) which decreased by 15% from the levels of 2011. A substantial proportion of these frauds still bear the hallmarks of ‘money mule’ activity (where a criminal recruits another party to use his or her account on the fraudster’s behalf), but the decrease is encouraging in terms of consumer behaviour. Kate Beddington-Brown notes: “Organisations have invested effort into identifying possible victims of money mule operations and ensuring that their customers are educated about the dangers of misusing accounts, and these figures seem to demonstrate that this message is being heard. Any requests to receive and transfer funds on behalf of a person or organisation should be viewed with suspicion and reported, ultimately, to Action Fraud.”

Misuse of an account, however, is still the second largest type of fraud identified in 2012 and – therefore – increased attention must also be paid to ensuring that individuals are aware of this. Kate Beddington-Brown explains: “In these difficult economic times, the motivation to attempt fraud – or the vulnerability to being duped into doing so – is perhaps understandable. Organisations, however, must do all that they can, to ensure that consumers are aware that committing fraud can have very serious consequences: from withdrawal of services to criminal charges. If organisations and consumers alike can stamp out this kind of fraud, extra effort can then be dedicated to preventing those criminals who are responsible for the rise in identity crime.”


Comment from the Cifas Chief Executive

Cifas Chief Executive, Peter Hurst, concludes: “With the cost of living increasing, pay levels frozen for many, benefit changes taking effect and a sluggish economy, it is unsurprising that fraud has increased. Prevention remains better than cure, however, and it is time for all organisations and consumers to start reviewing their approaches to preventing fraud rather than just dealing with its effects. Investment in proper fraud prevention systems and approaches, from online security to data sharing, and education are the cornerstones of such an approach and – without them – the only thing that is guaranteed is an ever increasing fraud losses to organisations and society at large.”


Notes to Editors:

1.  Cifas is the UK's Fraud Prevention Service with 270 Member organisations spread across banking, credit cards, asset finance, retail credit, mail order, insurance, investment management, telecommunications, factoring, share dealing and the public sector.  Members share information on identified frauds in the fight to prevent further fraud.  Cifas is unique and was the first data sharing scheme of its type in the world.  Other schemes modelled on Cifas have been set up in Southern Africa and Germany.

2.  The following tables show a summary of the statistics and the number of fraud cases recorded by Cifas Members during 2011, broken down by the type of fraud identified.  Definitions are given below the table.




% Change

Fraud cases identified





Fraud Cases Identified refers to each proven instance of fraud identified by Cifas Members and filed to the Cifas database.  Members must have sufficient evidence to take the case to the police although it is not mandatory that they do so.  A fraud case can involve multiple subjects and multiple addresses.


Fraud Type



% Change

Identity Fraud – Total




Application Fraud – Total




False Insurance Claim




Facility Takeover Fraud




Asset Conversion




Misuse of Facility




Victims of Impersonation




Victims of Takeover





Identity Fraud cases include cases of false identity and identity theft.

Application Fraud/False Insurance Claim relates to applications or claims with material falsehood (lies) or false supporting documentation where the name has not been identified as false.

Facility Takeover Fraud occurs where a person (the 'facility hijacker') unlawfully obtains access to details of the 'victim of takeover', namely an existing account holder or policy holder (or of an account or policy of a genuine customer or policy holder) and fraudulently operates the account or policy for his own (or someone else's) benefit.

Asset Conversion relates to the sale of assets subject to a credit agreement where the lender retained ownership of the asset (for example a car or a lorry).

Misuse of Facility is where an account, policy or other facility is used fraudulently.

  1. Cifas will shortly release Fraudscape 2013: Depicting the UK’s Fraud Landscape. This report will look, in depth, at all of the frauds filed by Cifas Members in 2011 and examine the reasons behind these fraud trends, while also setting these trends in context. The report will be available on the Cifas website and in hard copy.
  2. Cifas Protective Registration is a service that enables individuals to seek protection against possible impersonation attempts when they have good reason to believe that their details might be used by a fraudster. A Bulk Protective Registration Service is also available for organisations who have fallen victim to a data breach. Further details can be found at www.cifas.org.uk/pr
  3. Action Fraud is the UK’s national fraud reporting centre where you should report fraud if you have been approached, scammed or defrauded. For full details go to www.actionfraud.police.uk

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