It has been a busy, interesting and successful year for Crimestoppers but it is not over yet: today the only charity in the UK that seeks to solve crime launches its last major initiative of 2011.
Crimestoppers’ latest campaign is aimed at tackling identity fraud and this involves a massive push to encourage the public to pass on – anonymously – information that they know about the crime and its perpetrators.
I founded Crimestoppers nationally 23 years ago with a great deal of help from the police, the business community and the media. Since then, the nature of the charity’s work has changed enormously and Crimestoppers prides itself on using the latest technology to combat the most up-to-date forms of crime.
Unfortunately, identity fraud is an expanding, modern-day crime. A recent survey revealed that the UK economy loses an estimated £2.7 billion per year due to this crime that, in turn, affects 1.8 million people annually.
Identity fraud covers a range of widespread criminal activities with many organised groups now supplying to order either false identities or genuine personal identities that have been stolen.
I recently commissioned some research that found the public feels more at risk from fraud and identity theft than any other crimes including violence and burglary. Nearly half of those questioned said that an attempt to defraud them or a member of their family has been made in the last three years. Of those who were victims to fraud, 52 per cent had their credit card details stolen for unauthorised purchases.
Today’s initiative therefore seeks to combat a crime that is touching upon an increasing number of people and the timing of the launch – in the run-up to Christmas – is not coincidental.
With such a large volume of personal data currently available online, organised criminals are able to steal, as well as trade, identities in high volume. With more people using the internet and entering their details online over the festive period, Crimestoppers wants to raise awareness and encourage people to pass on information relating to crime.
There are, for example, many websites that offer a range of false products and services including fake birth certificates, driving licences, passports, National Insurance cards and utility bills. Crimestoppers is urging the public to share details anonymously on any false identity websites through the charity.
Police case studies have included Operation Hornblende, which targeted an “ID factory” in Barnet, north London, that was run by Albanian and Algerian nationals. Police seized a large number of specialist printing equipment, more than 1200 blank European passports, more than 100 genuine EU passports, more than 200 blank National Insurance cards, counterfeit EU driving licences and EU immigration stamps. The hard drive documents and total paper documents confiscated exceeded 10,000.
In this day and age, I find it alarming that a quarter of us are still not taking simple precautions such as shredding bills and bank statements before putting them in the bin. Only 57 per cent of those surveyed verify emails or calls from organisations before responding.
Furthermore, identity fraud is an enabler to a variety of criminal activity including money laundering, benefit fraud, immigration crimes and human trafficking. So by effectively tackling ID fraud we can nip some of these other criminal activities in the bud.
I ask those with information about fraud to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on www.crimestoppers-uk.org. No one will know who you are and you will not have to go to court. However, by doing this, you will be making it tougher for calculating individuals to exploit innocent members of the public.
I founded Crimestoppers in 1988 in the wake of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, a 40-year-old father of three who was hacked to death on the streets of London during the Broadwater Farm riots.
Crimestoppers involves a three-way partnership between the business community, the police and the media. Businesses put up money to finance the scheme, the police are willing to act on information from the public and the media highlights the charity’s work.
Since 1988, Crimestoppers has received more than 1.2 million actionable calls resulting in more than £116 million worth of stolen goods being recovered and more than £217 million worth of drugs being seized.
Many of my earliest and fondest memories of Crimestoppers involve my great friend, the late Sir Denis Thatcher. Denis was a co-founding trustee of the charity and I have little doubt that, were he still alive, he would be taking a full and active involvement in today’s launch.
Denis was passionate about Crimestoppers because it gave the man (and woman) in the street the means to fight back against crime. I urge everyone to seize this opportunity and help us to tackle identity fraud in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.