The British Law against Identity Theft

Identity theft is estimated to cost the United Kingdom somewhere between 1.3 and 1.7 billion every year. Because of this, and because identity theft is a growing problem which often has connections to other criminal activities such as people and drug smuggling, several new laws have been passed in the UK over the past couple of years to help deal with the problem.

The Fraud Act 2006 created a new offense of fraud that could be committed in one of three ways: through making a false representation with intent to gain, failing to disclose information and abuse of position for gain. Other offenses that were created with this act include obtaining services dishonestly, possessing equipment to commit fraud and making or supplying articles for use in committing fraud. This act came into force on January 15 2007.

The Identity Cards Act 2006 was introduced in anticipation of the upcoming national identity cards scheme planned in the UK. It introduced offenses relating to possession, control and intent to use false identity documents, including genuine documents that belong to someone else. These offenses apply to all identity documents, including passports, driving licenses and immigration documents issued both by the UK and by other countries. The offenses also apply to the ID cards that will be issued under the National Identity Scheme.

It is hoped that the planned National Identity Scheme will also help to combat identity theft, by both helping people to prove their identities quickly and simply as well as providing them with a highly-secure document that can be used to protect their identity.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 also changed the law so that the offenses of obtaining a passport through fraud and obtaining a driving license through fraud became arrestable offenses, and made the penalties for the two offenses were the same.

Because the ways in which criminals commit identity theft are constantly changing, the laws are having to constantly change as well. Identity fraud on the Internet is on the rise, banks are also having to take a greater role in dealing with the problem – for example, if the identity theft involves online banking, it is the banks who are responsible for verifying that an offense has taken place and contacting the police, once they have been advised of the situation by the victim. This is in line with Home Office guidelines that were introduced on April 1 2007 after discussion with the financial sector and the Association of Chief Police Officers. No doubt things will continue to change as technology continues to advance and identity thieves find new ways of abusing it.