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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Criminals to 'adapt to ID cards'
By Jonathan Amos
BBC News science reporter, Dublin

Demonstration ID card (BBC)
ID cards promise a more secure form of technology
The UK government's proposed ID scheme will do little to stop identity theft and may actually exacerbate fraudulent behaviour in its early years.

That is the view of researcher Dr Emily Finch who interviews career criminals about their activities.

She has detailed how they adapt their strategies to get around new anti-crime technologies such as chip and pin.

Dr Finch will tell a Dublin conference that these criminals will be undaunted by the prospect of identity cards.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) researcher, who is speaking this week at the British Association's Festival of Science, says people have the mistaken belief that newer and better technologies are somehow infallible.

"What fraudsters know about is human nature. They know about people, they know how we operate, and they know how relationships of trust in which information is disclosed develop," she told the BBC News website.

Useful rubbish

She cites the recent substitution of personal identification numbers (pin) for signatures in the use of credit and debits cards as a classic example.

She claims this chip and pin technology, as it is called, has not reduced the problem of fraud.

Instead of using stolen cards, criminals are now taking over people's identities and applying for cards in their name
Dr Emily Finch, UEA
Dr Finch says criminals have told her how they now look over people's shoulders to see a person's pin being entered on a keypad and then attempt to steal the card at a later date.

Dr Finch describes how she and a male co-researcher swapped chip and pin cards and carried out a number of transactions.

Not once, she says, did anyone check the gender on the card or challenge them - because our increasing reliance on technology is leading to a breakdown in the vigilance we customarily exercised.

"Instead of using stolen cards, criminals are now taking over people's identities and applying for cards in their name. If you think about a credit card application, it doesn't actually require much information about an individual that can't be found out with a little bit of research."

This "research" could be done in people's domestic rubbish. One survey found only 14% of this material contained no information of use to fraudsters.

Next step

Dr Finch's research leads her to doubt that any scheme for national ID cards will work, even if it is backed up by biometric data such as eye scans - because the criminals will simply adapt their strategies to try to get around the hurdle.

"The more people rely on the production of a particular piece of identification to verify identity, the less vigilance people will exercise themselves - that's the problem. If there are ID cards we will trust them to be unassailable."

Chip and pin (Chip and pin)
Chip and pin is currently being rolled out across the UK
She said people had to start thinking about how they handled sensitive information about themselves and how they disclosed it to others.

Sandra Quinn, a spokesperson for the consortium of financial and retailing groups running chip and pin, commented: "Chip and pin has been introduced to tackle two of the largest areas of fraud - namely counterfeit and lost and stolen card fraud.

"As chip and pin is used more and more, criminals will look at new ways of carrying out fraud and the banking and retail industries are working together to look at new ways to tackle plastic card fraud," she told the BBC News website.

Dr Emily Finch presents the British Association (BA) Joseph Lister Award Lecture, Life-swapping in cyber suburbia - the problem of stolen identity and the internet, at the BA festival in Dublin on 7 September.

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