Keep fraudsters at bay

Published by Donal MacIntyre on 26 October 2010.
Last updated on 28 October 2010

Donal MacIntyre

Put your seat belt on, fasten tight, and maybe consider wearing a helmet. I'm about to ask you to do something that runs so against the grain it hurts me to say it...

I'm going to ask you to open your junk mail.

It's only in extreme cases that I would approve of such intimacy with the hordes of pamphlets, letters and marketing nonsense that pollute our mailboxes – but there is a very good reason.

The junk mail you don't usually give the time of day might be the only clue you need to find out if your identity has been stolen.

Not all junk is junk

In a recent case I worked on, both the wife and husband had separately received letters that indicated they had taken out contracts for a new iPhone with Orange through Carphone Warehouse  – something neither of them had done.

In both instances, their names were on the contracts but with someone else's bank details.

If they hadn't opened their mail they would never have known about it. While they didn't lose any money in that instance, their credit ratings could have been hammered.

"It had all the appearance of junk mail, and because I had never had a contract with Carphone Warehouse I didn't think I had a reason to open it," the wife says.

However, that piece of apparent junk mail provided an insight into a massive fraud tactic used by a sophisticated network of criminals.

Just from these two letters, it became clear how many people may be affected by a single scam. In this instance, the couple and the people whose bank details were on the contracts, plus Orange and Carphone Warehouse, were all caught up in a web of deceit – all victims of the same fraud.

According to industry figures, there have been over 50,000 victims of identity theft in the first six months of this year alone, but this could be a huge underestimate as many people don't bother reporting the crime.

Certainly, the authorities seem powerless to investigate these cases because they are so pervasive.

Low priority

In the above case, it was confirmed to me that the matters were investigated and dealt with internally by both Orange and Carphone Warehouse, but no report was made to the police as they thought it pointless.

Rather depressingly, one of my police sources confirmed this attitude when he told me that if there were a crime number for every one of these cases, Scotland Yard would seize up.

I wonder why such huge resources are put into prosecuting the odd shoplifter or dragging people before the courts for littering when they have accidentally dropped a fiver on the street (true story), when so many cases of fraud go unreported and uninvestigated because the scale is simply too big.

There is a threshold below which it is not financially viable for the police to investigate and prosecute e-crime, online fraud and identity theft – but what message does that send out? 

So, until the authorities start taking this violation of our privacy seriously and dedicating more resources to solving this kind of crime, I have to ask you to indulge in a little bit of criminal time-wasting and open your junk mail – at the very least, it'll give you peace of mind, and it may just save you a fortune.

And if you do find your personal details have been hijacked, contact all your providers straightaway and make sure you report it to the police – the more of us who do, the harder it will be for them to ignore it.

If you want Donal to investigate a scam you've discovered email him at

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