Young people increasingly targeted by cyber criminals, Cifas data reveals

Internet security specialist David Higgins.
Photo by Mark Bullimore

Internet security specialist David Higgins. Photo by Mark Bullimore

Identity fraud has reached its highest level in a decade in the UK with younger victims being increasingly targeted, new figures show.

Fraud prevention service Cifas said 172,919 identity frauds were reported by the organisation's members in 2016 – the highest number since its records began in 2008.

The crime now represents more than half (53.3%) of all frauds reported to the organisation – with 88% of cases perpetrated online.

After finding a 34% increase in identity frauds committed on under 21s from 2015-16, with almost 25,000 victims under 30 last year, Cifas is calling for better education around fraud and financial crime and urging young people to take more care in protecting their personal data.

It follows a report from the National Crime Agency and National Cyber Crime Centre showing 65% of British businesses had detected a cyber security breach in the last year.

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Mike Haley, deputy chief executive of Cifas, said: 'These new figures show that identity fraud continues to be the number one fraud threat.

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'With nine out of ten identity frauds committed online and with all age groups at risk, we are urging everyone to make it more difficult for fraudsters to abuse their identity.'

To avoid falling victim to identity fraud, Mr Haley advised people to use strong passwords online, download software updates when prompted on electronic devices, and avoid using public Wifi for banking and online shopping.

He added: 'We all need to take responsibility to secure our mail boxes, shred our important documents like bank statements and utility bills, and take sensible precautions online – otherwise we are making ourselves a target for the identity fraudster.'

David Higgins, managing director of Norfolk cyber security advisers 4ITSec, said: 'One big problem with the younger age group is the fact that they don't seem to worry about sharing devices and passwords – that makes them more vulnerable to 'man in the middle' attacks and cloning of devices.

'Social media apps are getting better at building in security, but the internet is littered with old accounts and passwords. If passwords are reused across apps, it makes them all the more vulnerable.'

National co-ordinator for economic crime, Commander Chris Greany, said: 'With close to half of all crime now either fraud or cyber crime we all need to make sure we protect our identity.

'Identity fraud is the key to unlocking your valuables. Things like weak passwords or not updating your software are the same as leaving a window or door unlocked.'

How does identity fraud occur?

Cifas said the vast majority of identity fraud occurs when a fraudster attempts to buy a product or get financial credit in someone else's name.

Often victims do not realise they have been targeted until they receive a bill for something they did not buy or experience problems with their credit rating.

To carry out this kind of fraud successfully, fraudsters need access to their victim's personal information such as name, date of birth, address, and which banks they hold accounts with. This information can be accessed in a variety of ways, from stealing mail or hacking to exploiting personal information on social media or though 'social engineering', where innocent parties are persuaded to give up personal information to someone pretending to be from their bank, the police or a trusted retailer.