Who protects our identity? An investigation on identity theft in Ireland

Matea Stiglic

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Photo credits: Personal photo
Photo credits: Personal photo

The recent photo of Irish president, Michael D. Higgins, using an ATM on Baggot Street in Dublin could be a sign that ATM usage in Ireland has become safe enough for everyone else. But, the figures provided by numerous associations in Ireland showing that the number of credit card frauds in Ireland has been increasing rapidly during the last few years tell us a completely different story. Are todays Irish credit card holders safe and what is being done to stop these common and, in most cases, irresolvable frauds?

Figures provided by Irish Payment Services Organisation Limited (IPSO) show that the amount of money stolen by credit card frauds in Ireland rose by 22% in the period from 2008-2012. What has been making credit card owners more vulnerable in the past few years is the rise of the internet banking and online payments. Figures issued by Central Statistics office in 2008 showed that over 65% of Irish households had at least one computer. This number has been drastically increasing since, putting more and more people in danger of becoming identity theft victims.

“Identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen or obtained and used to carry out fraud. Criminal identity theft occurs when an individual who has been apprehended on suspicion of committing a crime assumes someone else’s identity in order to escape punishment”, as defined by Consumers Choice magazine.  The IPSO statistics show us that 79% of all credit card frauds happen when the actual credit card is not present, which includes shopping through online payment services, but also scams made by phones or by e-mail.

The information issued by the Central Statistics Office says the number of people affected by frauds in the last quarter of 2013 reached the total of 5,014. In 2012, the total amount of money stolen by card frauds was €20.4 mil. This makes the total of 13 cases per day that have to be solved by Gardaí. For a country as small as Ireland, this number requires special actions to be taken.

Photo credits: Personal photo
Photo credits: Personal photo

An Garda Síochána is familiar with this type of frauds. “Gardaí give crime prevention advice on an on-going basis to members of the public regarding personal precautions that should be taken. However, a high level of personal responsibility should be taken in relation to this type of crime.”. Although this type of fraud is affecting Irish economy and Irish people, Gardaí still hasn’t established a section dealing with this and relating issues.

When asked about the lack of this section, Gardaí reply: “Any member of An Garda Síochána can take a report of an alleged crime. He/she will determine whether a breach of criminal law is disclosed and that evidence is available to establish this breach against a particular individual. More serious and complex fraud allegations are referred to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation for assessment”.

The length of the investigation done by Gardaí of a particular fraud case depends on the complexity of a certain case. Sometimes, this can take up to several years. However, this is not a guarantee that the fraudsters will get caught.

It seems that banks play a major role in solving these cases. They seem to be improving credit card payment systems each day to ensure their customers’ safety. “If we believe there might be a chance of a fraudulent transaction on customers credit card, we call that customer to make sure. If we, together with our client, discover the possibility of credit card fraud, we then block that card immediately”.

Recently, banks even introduced a PIN number as an addition to the chip on the credit card. Customers now, instead of signing a paper as a verification of their transaction, type in a 4 digit number to confirm their identity. “The system makes it much more difficult for criminals to gain access to customers’ account.” This helps to prevent misusing of credit card frauds by fraudsters in person but it still doesn’t prevent on-line credit card frauds.

Photo credits: Personal photo
Photo credits: Personal photo

Ireland seems to have numerous associations that deal with the prevention of credit card frauds. But, the question is – how effective are they? Data Protection Commissioner, IPSO, Consumers Association of Ireland and National Consumer Agency are one of the main associations that people can turn to if they have questions relating to identity theft frauds or were already affected by it. Even though these organisations state their work is to protect Irish customers from becoming victims of identity theft, there is so much they could do.

“IPSO’s fundamental principles are to preserve the integrity and security of the payment systems and to promote and oversee the strategic development of such systems in the interest of the industry and the general public”. Consumers Association of Ireland, on the other hand, helps to protect consumer rights and when asked about identity theft and how they are helping people to either prevent it or overcome it, their answer was: “Consumers Association of Ireland does not have any information on this issue.  We would recommend that you contact the government body, the National Consumer Agency in relation to this”.

This Agency, however, has a different view on this issue: “Unfortunately, NCA does not deal with this type of frauds. We help customers to manage their money, with useful tools and information to help them get the most from their money and help them make smart decisions”.

Data Protection Commissioner is the body closest to this type of fraud dealing. On their website, they offer the full insight in people’s rights under Data Protection Act. People can complain to Data Protection Commissioner and can get their questions answered in matter of weeks for less complicated cases to even few months for more complex ones.

All of these bodies provide Irish people with advice on how to protect your data and how to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. However, none of them offer advice or a possible solution on what to do after you are affected by this fraud.

Gardaí seem to be the only body that could help identity theft victims and minimising the number of these frauds. “A high level of personal responsibility should be taken in relation to this type of crime. Gardaí are involved in the gathering of intelligence in relation to such crimes and the follow-on investigations of organised criminals and crime gangs involved in perpetrating such activity”.

The increasing number of identity theft victims in Ireland shows that there is something that is done wrong. A survey commissioned by Fellowes for National Identity Fraud Prevention Week suggests that 90,000 people in Ireland have already been victims of identity fraud – an increase on 2008.

The total of 13 cases of identity theft frauds per day in 2013 shows greater measurements have to be taken. Gardaí have to be more focused on solving these cases. Establishing a section that deals only with these types of frauds could help in solving this problem. However, Gardaí still avoids answering this question.

Numbers and actions taken in Ireland in order to stop this crime from happening show that this is a huge problem to be dealt with. Current surveys show that this problem doesn’t only affect its victims, but also causes big losses for the society and a challenge for law enforcement agencies. Campaigns for raising the awareness for this problem are a great solution, but, once the fraud is done, there should be a body dealing only with these cases. The average number of 13 cases per day in Ireland is a sign there should be a unique section dealing with this problem on a daily basis.

Garda’s current solution of everyone in charge of this problem doesn’t seem to be effective. So, why is then everyone responsible closing their eyes on this problem? Gardaí should be working as protectors of Irish public. Not providing details such as how many cases of identity theft were solved in the past 5 years and why Gardaí isn’t doing anything to establish a section specified for this type of fraud only shows that there is something that they could be hiding and it certainly shows they have no right explanation on why this section hasn’t been established already.

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Matea Stiglic