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Identity theft: ID cards are not the answer


New technology will exacerbate rather than ease the problem of identity theft, according to new research at the University of East Anglia.

Criminologist Dr Emily Finch will outline her new research on the increasingly sensitive issue at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin next week, concluding that the introduction of identity cards in the UK would fail to combat identity theft.

She will challenge the assumption that technology-based security systems provide the solution, arguing instead that the answer lies in good old-fashioned human vigilance. Indeed, Dr Finch claims that our increasing reliance on technology is leading to a breakdown in the vigilance we customarily exercised.

The issue of stolen identity is of growing public concern and hit the headlines in recent months as the Government prevaricates over its Identity Card Bill, and in the light of the London suicide bombings.

“There is a worrying assumption that advances in technology will provide the solution to identity theft whereas it is possible that they may actually aggravate the problem,” said Dr Finch.

“Our research has shown that fraudsters are tenacious, merely adapting their strategies to circumvent new security measures rather than desisting from fraudulent behaviour. Studying the way that individuals disclose sensitive information would be far more valuable in preventing identity fraud than the evolution of technologically advanced but ultimately fallible measures to prevent the misuse of personal information after it has been obtained.”

Dr Finch’s lecture will provide an in-depth picture of the nature of identity theft in Britain today and:

  • Tackle the misunderstanding that identity theft is inherently associated with financial transactions.
  • Reveal the many non-financial - and seemingly trivial - pieces of personal information used by fraudsters to assume an identity.
  • Illustrate how social interaction in a virtual environment such as an Internet chat room facilitates identity theft due to the absence of the normal visual cues that enable us to establish truth or deception.
  • Encourage individuals to think about the situations in which personal information is divulged and arm them with effective ways of protecting themselves.
  • Highlight the dangers of social engineering in relation to identity theft.
  • Examine the spread of internet alter-egos and the fragmentation of the individual into ‘actual’ and ‘virtual’ versions.
  • Outline the ‘disinhibition’ effect of certain online activities in which users become accustomed to lying about their identity.
  • Examine new strategies by credit card fraudsters since the introduction of ‘chip and pin’ technology.

Dr Emily Finch presents the BA Joseph Lister Award Lecture, ‘Life-swapping in cyber suburbia - the problem of stolen identity and the internet’, at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin on September 7 at 12.45pm. For more information on the BA Festival of Science, visit

Craig Brierley | alfa
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