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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
Trust the net over the High Street

A string of embarrassing security cock-ups is setting back the cause of e-commerce, according to a new report. But you are still more likely to be "robbed" in the real world.

Bosses at Barclays internet bank have done more than blot their own copybook, they have damaged the reputation of the net as a whole.

A report by the National Consumer Council says consumers remain deeply suspicious of parting with their cash over the web. Barclays' high-profile blunder will have done nothing to allay their fears.

Internet centre
Consumers still wary of internet transactions?
But these concerns are largely unfounded. Credit card fraud is booming first and foremost on the High Street, not the net.

Up and down the country, fraudsters are eagerly exploiting our low-tech ways of paying for goods and services. Their latest scam is called "skimming".

Credit card companies fear fraud involving customer details "skimmed" by dishonest mail order companies, waiters or shop staff, has risen rapidly this year.

Double trouble

Criminals stole 29.5m last year using information from mail order forms, faxes, phone calls and the internet, says the Association of Payment Clearing Services.

That was more than double the 1998 figure. This year is expected to see a continued rise in this type of fraud.

Tips to beat fraudsters
Try to keep a eye on your cards
Carefully dispose of sales slips, receipts and carbon copies
Regularly check your bank statement
Although even the lowly cheque book contains enough information to satisfy the fraudster, copying - or skimming - details straight from a bank card is a boom for organised gangs.

Skimming is simple but effective. Fraudsters, often posing as waiters, take down details from cards given to them by unsuspecting customers.

In some cases these cards are swiped though special readers. The details can then be used to produce counterfeit cards.

This year "skimmers" working in two New York restaurants managed to buy $500,000-worth of goods using copied cards.

'Violated'

In the UK, the activity added 54m to annual credit card fraud bill of 189m.

Pensioners George and Margaret Burton have experienced the work of skimmers at first hand.

Credit card transaction
Many think nothing of giving their card to shop staff
"Margaret looked at her bank statement and immediately threw up her hands and said: 'There's loads of things on here I haven't bought!' says Mr Burton.

Some 580-worth of goods had been purchased with a copy of Mrs Burton's debit card.

"My wife felt that her privacy had been violated," says Mr Burton, of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.

Though quick to act, the Burtons' bank did not suggest the problem was widespread. The police, however, said a spate of similar crimes had come to light.

Chipping in

"We're very careful now. We only use cards when they're swiped at a checkout in front of our eyes. We never let our cards out of our possession."

Banks are slowly replacing the UK's 120 million credit cards with smart chip cards, in a bid to out-fox the criminal gangs.

Cynthia Jay and a big cheque
Be careful who you show your cheques to
However, industry experts expect the fraudsters to beat these security devices, just as holograms and magnetic strips have been overcome in the past.

Dave Panel, internet analyst of investment group Durlacher, says online banking may prove the most secure option for consumers.

"Internet banking is not particularly high risk, that's just the public perception. People were also very dubious about the arrival of telephone banking."

Mr Panel says there aren't legions of "spotty 14-year-olds" squirreling away our credit cards details via their home computers.

"In fact, it's far more insecure to hand over your card in a shop or restaurant."

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See also:

02 Aug 00 | Business
Barclays admits new security breach
16 Nov 98 | The Economy
The account snatchers
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