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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 23:37 GMT
Taking on Britain's banking fraudsters
By Jon Cronin
BBC News business reporter

Computer keyboard
An increasing number of customers are worried about internet security

How safe is our money?

It is a question a growing number of bank customers are asking themselves as they access their accounts online or withdraw cash from an ATM.

The murky world of internet fraud has cast a shadow over online banking, which promised a revolution in the way we manage our money, but has since fallen victim to security scares and identity scams.

Meanwhile, fraudsters are using an increasingly advanced array of devices to tamper with bank cash machines, allowing them to copy - or skim - card details from unwitting customers.

Cash machine fraud totalled 65.8m last year, according to industry body Apacs.

In the face of a rising tide of consumer security concerns, two of Britain's leading High Street banks have announced separate plans to target internet and ATM fraud.

Double checking

Alliance & Leicester is launching what it describes as a "revolutionary new system" designed to tighten security for its internet customers.

You can't breath a sigh of relief just because we got new security measures - fraudsters won't just pack up and go away, they will go elsewhere.
David Porter, Detica

The bank is keen to combat scams such as phishing, where online customers are induced by fake websites into giving away their personal details.

Using technology successfully applied in the United States, Alliance & Leicester is introducing new double identity check measures which will come into force when customers access their accounts.

At the log-in process, Alliance & Leicester first identifies the customer's computer. The bank then confirms that it is genuinely Alliance & Leicester by showing a unique image or phrase previously chosen by the customer.

Alliance & Leicester believes the new measures are timely, given the growing fears of customers.

According to market researchers YouGov, 54% of bank customers are more worried about the risk of fraudsters accessing their online bank details than they were just two years ago.

'Security fears'

Alliance & Leicester has seen a 92% jump in internet banking transactions over the last year, and now has more than one million internet customers.

Lloyds TSB cash machine
How safe is your cash machine?

"With so many of our customers choosing to use the internet for more of their banking needs, security is of the utmost importance," says Andy Muddimer, Alliance & Leicester's head of internet banking.

"We believe that the new security measures offered by Alliance & Leicester will ease people's security fears surrounding internet banking and encourage more people to bank online."

On the High Street, Lloyds TSB is announcing plans to improve security for customers using its cash machines.

More than three-quarters of people are worried about withdrawing money from cash machines in case criminals copy their card details, according a study carried out for the bank by researchers TNS.

'Fight back'

The process, known as skimming, involves criminals placing devices into the card entry slot of a cash machine to capture a customer's card details.

At the same time, a hidden camera overlooking the cash machine keypad records a customer's pin number.

The combination of the two enables fraudsters to produce counterfeit cards which can then be used to withdraw cash.

In a bid to reduce the risk of cash machine fraud, Lloyds TSB is attaching anti-skimming devices to its ATMs across Britain.

The system thwarts attempts by fraudsters to record customers' card details by scrambling each card's magnetic stripe details as they are copied by a skimming device.

"Cash machine fraud is a concern and we need to use all available weapons to fight back," says Matthew Timms, Lloyds TSB's internet and ATM director.

Winning the war

Financial security expert David Porter, of specialist IT consultancy Detica, believes both banks' initiatives are a step in the right direction, but only if customers "share the responsibility" of keeping their account details safe.

"These measures will win the battle, but they won't win the war," he says.

"They will get people to take security seriously, but only to a certain extent. We have to be realistic, the man on the Clapham omnibus isn't a security professional."

While customers are in general more concerned about the threat of internet banking or cash machine fraud, their fears are not as "fever pitched" as some observers would have us believe, Mr Porter says.

"You can't breath a sigh of relief just because we've got new security measures. Fraudsters won't just pack up and go away, they will go elsewhere," he says.

"In the old days they broke into your safe, now they want your electronic details."

In the meantime, Alliance & Leicester and Lloyds TSB believe their attempts to deter today's would-be electronic safe crackers will go some way to easing their customers' fears.

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