A 50 per cent rise in counterfeit card fraud over the last year has prompted banks, retailers and police to rally together to crack down on the organised criminals responsible for the £138 million lost annually on UK cards.
Industry payments body Apacs (Association for Payment Clearing Services) says a number of initiatives are being implemented to crack down on card counterfeiting. These include a card industry agreement to pilot a national police card fraud squad; the November launch of a 'Skimming Crackdown' programme urging shop, restaurant and petrol station staff to report card counterfeiters anonymously to Crimestoppers; and the introduction of secure smart chip cards in the UK.
The most common counterfeiting method is called skimming. This involves someone copying the magnetic stripe on a credit or debit card by swiping it through a small hand held card reader. The data can then be used to make counterfeit cards. Counterfeit card fraud accounts for 40 per cent of total card fraud losses that hit £373 million in the last year.
"Highly organised criminals bribe or threaten people working in petrol stations, restaurants and shops to skim customer cards for them," says Melanie Hubbard of Card Watch, Apacs’ fraud prevention programme.
Through Crimestoppers, the Skimming Crackdown programme offers a minimum reward of £500 for information leading to the conviction of anyone involved in skimming. The two-year pilot of a national cheque and plastic card fraud squad has been proposed to begin in early 2002 to focus on the organised crime syndicates behind skimming. Plans for the pilot squad, principally funded by Apacs’ member banks and building societies, follow talks between the industry body, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office.
The skimming squad will be in operation until the full-scale introduction of chip-based smart cards by the UK banking industry. Already there are 20 million chip cards in the UK and by the end of next year, half of the UK’s 108 million payment cards should contain chips.
Apacs says the UK’s high rates of card crime will start to plummet when banks and retailers begin the implementation of chip cards with PINs (personal identification numbers) to identify cardholders by 2004.