Identity theft (otherwise known in many countries as identity fraud) is prevalent in many other countries. US citizens are not the only ones affected. Read more to find out information on how identity theft occurs in other countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada and Australia.
A rose by any other name, or a crime by any other name… (identity theft or) identity fraud as it is called in many other countries is a serious crime that occurs not only in the United States, but around the world.
Recent data indicates that identity theft affects national economies around the world. In the United States the FTC reported a loss of approximately $50 billion dollars annually for consumers and businesses. The Home Office of the United Kingdom calculated the cost of identity theft to the British economy at $3.2 billion during the last three years. Estimates from the Australian Centre for Policing Research place the cost of identity theft to individuals in Australia at $3 billion each year.
In the United Kingdom, identity fraud has affected over 100,000 people each year and costs the economy over Â£1.3 billion. Like many Americans, citizens of the United Kingdom can request their credit report from the UK’s three topmost credit agencies, Callcredit, Experian or Equifax. However, in the UK, victims of identity fraud are required to first contact and dispute the report through the lenders, and then write to the credit agency if their efforts are unsuccessful.
The most common form of identity theft information gathering in the UK occurs through the use of spyware. It is estimated that spyware affects 91% of all computers in the United Kingdom. As in the US, identity theft is not limited to fraudulently obtaining credit in your name. Your personal information may also be being used to obtain fraudulent passports, health services, driver’s licenses, money laundering, and other forms of government benefits. More people could benefit from the use of excellent anti spyware software in Great Britain.
One of the fastest growing crimes in Canada is identity fraud. It is estimated by the credit agencies of TransUnion and Equifax that approximately 1800 Canadians file complaints every month regarding fraudulent use of their identities to obtain credit or to commit other crimes. These numbers do not include the identity fraud that has occurred regarding the Canadian equivalent of Social Security benefits (Social Insurance Numbers); with reports by the government indicating that there are approximately 2.4 million more social insurance numbers than there are actual Canadians. This abuse of the government benefits system questions the security of the system itself as well as causes uncertainty regarding exactly how much money is being lost each year to both the government and private sector due to identity theft. The most common occurrences of identity fraud in Canada occurs as a result of lax security in the business sector, where it is a common practice to share a customer’s personal information for other marketing purposes, making it easier to obtain the information and use it for fraudulent purposes.
In Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong; the crime of identity theft is a bigger concern than terrorism. Although banks, businesses, and the government have placed tighter security measures on the release and use of personal and financial information, citizens still feel threatened by identity theft. The most common occurrence of the abuse of someone’s identity in these countries is the abuse of credit/debit card theft. Other high rates of fraud resulting from identity theft include abuse resulting from online shopping and bill paying as well as approximately 20% of theft occurring due to the use of “Trojans” or spyware software.
Statistics in Australia indicate that 25% of reported frauds involve assuming a false identity. Recently, 13% of a study sample of birth certificates indicated the certificates to be false or inaccurate. “Identity kits,” which are a set of documents used to establish a false identity, are easily accessible and are very high quality making it difficult to determine their authenticity. Banks report that a loss of approximately $25 million dollars has occurred s a result of identity fraud. In 2007 it was estimated that approximately 2 million Australians have had their personal information stolen and used fraudulently. In 2007 a poll conducted by Galaxy Research found that 87% of Australians were “concerned about identity theft” and that many Australians were more concerned about identity theft than the “war on terrorism.”
Looking at these statistics three things are clear: first, identity theft or fraud is not limited to the United States; it is a worry that strikes people all over the word and, although it is at frightening levels in many countries, it does not seem to be as prevalent in Great Britain or Europe. There are several theories for why identity theft in the United States does not occur at the level it does in other countries. One theory is that other countries simply do not keep the statistical information that the United States and other counties do. Reporting of identity fraud may not be identified as such; maybe it is defined as fraud or theft, making it difficult to determine the exact statistics of identity theft.
Why is identity theft not as prevalent in other countries as it is in the United States? There are several thoughts on this subject. Unlike the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom does not use social security numbers for anything other than social security benefits. Credit bureaus create an “account” number for each individual and do not use the Social Security number as identifying information. As a result, your government identification is not as easily available or accessible as it is in the United States. Think about how often you use your Social Security Number – just the other day I used it for medical insurance benefits, the doctor’s office, and also to request a test score report for my son for college. Not only did I have access to my SSN for these uses, but I had to use my husband’s and son’s numbers as well.
Many Western European countries actually have laws that prohibit businesses from sharing, selling, or releasing your private, personal, or financial information. In the US, sharing of information is quite common. According the MSNBC reporter, Bob Sullivan, less data is available so there are fewer opportunities to use information for identity fraud. Collectors, businesses, direct marketing and pre-approved credit card offers are not the norm.
In many European countries credit bureau information is limited to participating banks. In France, Spain and Denmark only negative information may be reported. In the US, access to credit information is far too easy and it also indicates those with “good credit” making those individuals very appealing for identity theft.
Another reason why it is less likely for identity theft related to financial fraud to occur in European countries is that most people debit cards issued by their bank making it less likely that a criminal will spend the thousands of dollars that occurs with US credit card theft. Credit cards are also more difficult to get.
Lastly, many European countries utilize a “smart card,” a credit card with a computer chip that requires a pin code to be accessed as opposed to the magnetic strip on credit cards in the United States that offers no protection and that anyone can use. Since the smart card was introduced in France, identity fraud has decreased by 50%.
Although many European countries have found ways to decrease the incidences of identity theft, they have not eliminated it. The US may be able to learn a great deal from Europe in this regard, however, the fact remains that identity theft is a top concern among many nations and steps are being made around the world to correct it.