Counterfeit card fraud drops by half in the UK

But online banking fraud continues to rise, according to figures from financial institutions

Fraud losses due to counterfeit payment cards fell by half in 2009 from the year prior in the U.K., but online banking losses continued to rise, according to new banking industry figures released Wednesday.

U.K. financial institutions lost £80.9 million (US$121.3 million) in 2009 due to cloned cards, down from £169.8 million in 2008, according to the U.K. Cards Association and Financial Fraud Action U.K.

The dramatically lower figure was attributed to cyclical lulls sometimes seen in fraud figures, said Michelle Whiteman, spokeswoman for the organizations.

"We know that they [fraudsters] do focus their attention on other areas," Whiteman said. "We're happy that fraud has gone down but we're not complacent."

Often fraudsters that skim the details of chip-and-PIN (personal identification number) cards will clone the card and then use it in a country such as the U.S. with cash machines that do not verify the presence of the card's microchip. The card's microchip verifies a PIN in order to complete a transaction and ensure that the card hasn't been cloned.

Online banking losses were up 14 percent to £59.7 million in 2009. The organizations said the use of "sophisticated methods" to target consumer bank accounts contributed to the higher figure. Phishing incidents were also up 16 percent, to 51,000.

Overall the U.K. banking industry had a much better 2009: many categories of card fraud saw double-digit declines. Fraudulent card-not-present payments -- where payment card details are used for phone or Internet orders -- fell 19 percent in 2009 to £266.4 million, down from £328.4 million in 2008.

That decline was attributed to the increased prevalence of 3-D Secure (3DS), an e-commerce security system better known as Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode. The system requires a person to enter a password or portion of a password which is verified by a bank in order to complete an online purchase.

Fraud stemming from lost or stolen cards came in at £47.9 million, down 11 percent from £54.1 million, a decline also attributed to increased deployment across Europe of chip-and-PIN cards.

Losses in all categories of card fraud fell 28 percent to £440.3 million from £609.9 million in 2008.

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