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EDITIONS
Friday, 4 October, 2002, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Q&A: How to beat online fraud

The Bugbear computer virus - which has left transactions and passwords potentially open to hacking - is the latest scandal to hit the internet.

With more of us than ever carrying out our banking and shopping online BBC News Online looks at how to beat the fraudsters?

What form does fraud take?

The total cost of credit card and personal banking fraud in the UK is estimated to be in excess of 400m.

The major way this fraud is carried out is by card "skimming".

Skimming is a process where the data from a cards magnetic strip is electronically copied onto another card.

This fraud is often carried out in restaurants, shops and petrol stations - you hand over your card and a replica card is produced and used, sometimes on the other side of the world.


The law states that cardholders are not liable for fraudulent transactions as long as the original card is still in their possession

Mike Naylor, Consumers' Association

Skimming UK cards nets fraudsters 160m a year.

Fraud carried out when cards are not present - over the phone, mail order and via the internet is less common but it still accounts for close to 100m a year.

However, Mike Naylor of the Consumers' Association told BBC News Online: "I would much rather give my details online than over the phone to someone in a call centre.

"The risk of fraud on the internet is a little over-played."

What is being done about it?

Last April, the police and the banking sector launched a joint 5.6m scheme to combat personal banking and credit fraud in the UK.

But only 23 dedicated police officers are assigned to the scheme.

Tips for avoiding fraud
Don't let credit or debit cards out of sight when making a transaction
Shred or tear up receipts from card transactions
Always check receipts and statements
When using ATM machines don't let bystanders see your pin
Never disclose pin numbers
Source: Cardwatch

In the US, the countermeasures in place against internet fraud are more sophisticated.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has a dedicated taskforce watching the web.

In addition, the US Federal Trade Commission even publishes a list of the 10 most popular "dot cons" - the cyberspace equivalent of the FBI's "most wanted" list.

What happens if I am a victim of internet fraud?

To date in the UK, when internet banking security has been profuse, apologies have followed and customers been quickly refunded.

"In short, banks and businesses want to prevent internet transactions getting a bad name," Mr Naylor said.

"After all, its in their interests to get people shopping and banking online."

Any bank or business turning down a refund request is on shaky legal ground, he added.

"The law states that cardholders are not liable for fraudulent transactions as long as the original card is still in their possession."

However, even if a refund is quickly forthcoming the hassle-factor of being defrauded online could be considerable.

How can I keep my details out of the clutches of the fraudsters?

There are several steps to be taken to protect sensitive information online.

Firstly, be wary of opening unsolicited e-mail attachments on your home PC - they can contain viruses such as Bugbear that can read sensitive information.

What is more, those keen on a belt and braces approach to conducting business online may wish to install an anti-virus program on their PC - that way, hopefully, keeping the bugbear from the door.

Some sites may not be legitimate - most experts agree that it is generally not wise to surrender any information online unless the contact address or phone number is clear.

In the final analysis, though, the best way to keep banking details out of the clutches of fraudsters is to keep cards safe in the offline world.

The Cardwatch site, set up by Association for Payment Clearing Services (Apacs) to increase awareness of card fraud, calls on people to be vigilant.

Cardwatch advises consumers never to let cards out of sight and to check receipts and bank statement thoroughly.

See also:

24 Sep 02 | England
25 Jul 02 | Technology
26 Apr 02 | Business
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