New technology not making us more secure


Chip and pin technology: The new chip and pin technology makes us less secure against fraud, and not safer, a leading criminologist will tell the British Association Festival of Science.

The internet and the "electronic environment" pin technology also make it easier for us to be tricked or suffer "identify theft", according to Dr Emily Finch of the Norwich Law School at the University of East Anglia.

Dr Finch says opportunities for identity theft and fraudulent use of bank and credit cards have increased, even as new technologies are brought into use to prevent them.

Dr Finch will deliver a keynote address to the British Association Festival of Science on Wednesday titled "Life-swapping in cyber suburbia - the problem of stolen identity and the internet".

"People believe that computers and technology will solve the problem," Dr Finch told The Irish Times. "We have to stop trusting technology and try to start relying on human vigilance. Technology doesn't stop fraud, people stop fraud."

She has studied the problem of identity theft and fraudulent use of bank and credit cards for some years and has found that the fraudster's obvious level of success is linked to human behaviour, our propensity to trust.

She has discussed the issue with bank and security companies, but also with individuals who pursue this type of crime to learn their techniques.

"A fraudster uses his skills as a people person. Look at how the fraudsters have adjusted their techniques to overcome the chip and pin technology." She described how she received a phone call apparently from her bank seeking information about her accounts. "They were so friendly, natural and plausible," she said, to such a degree that she came close to revealing her account pin number but then realised the danger.

The criminals used to hire youngsters to go out and steal cards, but now they first go after the person's bank pin numbers. They then follow the person to learn where they live and steal or duplicate the card for later use, Dr Finch said.

In the absence of a pin they will present a stolen card at a shop and then pretend to have difficulties remembering the pin number. The salesperson will often allow the person to sign the docket instead, but then won't check whether the signatures match.

"The cashiers expect the technology to do the job for them," she said. "It is not being sufficiently alert and [ fraudsters] use the way people trust."

The internet, which provides chatrooms and e-mail services, also aids the fraudster, she stated. The internet can deliver information about a person with a view to identity theft.

"It takes just one Google search to find out where I work."

It can also be used to fish for information from the individual.

She described a technique where an e-mailer, apparently from a bank, said they didn't want the person's full pin number, but wanted to confirm identity with the first and third numbers. A second e-mail arrived, saying the person's answer was unreadable but this time asking for pin numbers two and four.

E-mails and chat rooms create an "electronic environment" which takes away our natural ability to sense danger or develop a mistrust of a person.

"We work out how people are by how they behave. You don't get this from an electronic environment. We are missing all the visual clues that indicate honesty," including tone of voice, facial features and body language. We all make judgments about whether we like this person, but can't when the clues are missing, she said.