Identity, passport theft skyrockets

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UPDATED: Norwegian authorities and even the police have been accused of failing to take identity crime seriously, as the number of people who’ve fallen victim to fraud has more than doubled in the past year. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 Norwegian passports have been reported lost or stolen so far in 2013, twice as many as 10 years ago, and experts warn many of the missing identity papers are used for criminal activity.

Passport and identity theft has rapidly increased in Norway, but police and politicians have been criticized for failing to tackle identity fraud. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Passport and identity theft has rapidly increased in Norway, but police and politicians have been criticized for failing to tackle identity fraud. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

An estimated 230,000 people, or 5.9 percent of Norwegians have been victims of identity theft so far this year, compared to 2.9 percent last year and 2.3 percent in 2011. New research by the Norwegian Centre for Information Security (Norsis) and the Tax Commission has revealed the boom.

Christian Meyer, a senior adviser and identity expert at Norsis, told newspaper DagensNæringsliv (DN) on Tuesday that the authorities’ lack of knowledge and expertise is to blame.

“I think one of the most important causes for the increase is that this form of crime isn’t prioritized by the police, and largely isn’t by politicians either,” said Meyer. “The police lack focus and competence. If this doesn’t change, we may be faced with a new doubling next year.”

Norwegian police, in charge of issuing passports in Norway, are also being criticized again for continuing to send them to their intended recipients in the normal mail. Postal officials repeated to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week that they’ve been urging the police to use registered mail, which is far more secure and can be traced if passports don’t arrive. The police, however, have resisted because of the extra costs involved, reported NRK.

Businessman Knut Meiner’s identity was stolen by thieves who rented out two excavators at a cost of NOK 1.6 million. “If we had a police force that worked more than four and a half days a week, then they could stop an attempted theft and catch those who did this in the act,” he said, angry at the lack of effort put into his case.

The Norwegian Data Security Authority (Datatilsynet) also told DN that police need to make identity theft cases a higher priority. European security company Affinion International estimates that in 2012, the identity fraud of 105,000 Norwegians cost NOK 2.7 billion (USD 440 million).

Crime on the rise

Norsis said more digital transactions and social media use have made identity theft easier and more lucrative for criminals. “I’m sure that it doesn’t take a long time to find out most of what you’ve done over the last 10 years, between for example, tax lists and social media,” Meyer told DN. “And it is clear that when it is so easy, there will be an increase in this type of crime. Neither the police nor the politicians have taken responsibility for this form of crime.”

Norway’s Tax Director Hans Christian Holte believes identity checks aren’t thorough enough. He told DN 1.4 million D-numbers have been issued, which is the temporary residents’ equivalent of a national identity number. Of these, only 130,000, or about 10 percent, have been subject to secure identity verification.

Holte has welcomed reports that eight out of 10 people would be willing to provide fingerprints to verify their identity. “The acceleration we’ve seen in the number of identity thefts in Norway is certainly worrisome,” he said. “We who manage the national registry believe that should be implemented to strengthen Norwegian identity security.” He says the tax directorate can only do so much, and more effort must come at the political level.

Ole Johan Strømman from the national Police Directorate says identity fraud will be a priority area over the next years. “We have not paid enough attention to ID theft, and see it is a growing problem,” he told DN. “We are in the process of building up both competency and capacity in that area.”

Passport naivety
Meanwhile, Norwegians are being urged to take better care of their passports, with 30,000 reported lost or stolen this year alone. Steinar Talgø from the Police Directorate told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that passport ownership and travel has increased over the past 10 years, so it follows that more passports will go missing.

But Talgø has warned there have been several cases of “look-alike” fraudsters, where people impersonate another to buy goods or illegally immigrate. “It’s where the passport is used by a person other than the holder, but who looks sufficiently similar to the picture in the passport,” he explained. “That’s how someone can be taken to be the correct passport holder.”

Per Haddal from the National ID Centre told NRK other passport fraud is much more sophisticated. He cited the case of two Norwegian passports, which were stolen from a car in Europe and found months later with changed photos and details on the other side of the world. He warns many passports are sold and used by criminals. Talgø has urged people to take better care of their papers, and says police will crack down on people who lose multiple passports.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate