Fraudster Frank Abagnale criticises UK ID card scheme

A former ID fraudster who now works for the US government has praised the security of the British passport

A former ID fraudster who now works for the US government has praised the security of the British passport - and says it is pointless for ministers to spend extra billions on a separate national ID card scheme.

In a speech which opened the City IT and IT Security Forum on board the Aurora ship this week, Frank Abagnale said the UK's national ID Card scheme is "another data source, more information to steal, more information about people being put in a central place".

"Why would you go to a national ID card when you already have one of the most secure documents in the world, the British passport?" he said.

Abagnale was a conman in his youth who has since worked for the FBI for more than 25 years as an ID and fraud expert.

He said stealing a person's identity is, for some criminals, almost as "simple as counting one two three".

As a teenager, Abagnale took on false identities, posing as an airline pilot, an attorney, a college professor and a paediatrician. He served time in prisons in France, Sweden and the US after making $2.5m in 26 countries. A film by Hollywood director Stephen Speilberg, "Catch me if you Can", is based on Abagnale's ID frauds.

Abagnale was released early from prison on condition he worked for federal law enforcement agencies and the US government without payment. He teaches, and helps with FBI investigations.

He has rejected pardons from three US presidents, including the incumbent George Bush. "I do not believe that a piece of paper will excuse my actions," he said. The pardons were offered because of Abagnale's work for the FBI.

In this week's talk he warned against government plans to make general use of the ID Card number due to be issued to UK citizens.

"We give away way too much information," he said. "In the US we didn't get our social security number until you got your first job, probably when about 16. Three people knew it: you, the government and your employer.

"Then they started using that number as an ID number and started putting it on all types of college ID cards, health cards and that number became an identification number and consequently we are where we are today [with growing ID theft] because of that problem."

After his talk he was asked whether fraud is easier today or than in his youth. He said: "Stealing one's identity today is as simple as counting one two, three. Becoming somebody else is a very simple thing to do. In the old days it just took a little longer because I didn't have the internet.

"To become somebody else or assume a phony ID, I had to go to the county death records and look up somebody who died, who was my age. Once I had the death records, I had the mother's name, father's name, place and date of birth, and mother's maiden name.

"From the death certificate I was able to apply for the birth certificate. With this, I was able to apply for a driver's license. Today the only difference is that it's all available online.

"In the US 2007 there were 15 million [ID fraud] victims, one every 4 seconds, and credit card companies lost in excess of 60bn dollars. ID theft is limited only by the criminal's imagination. Today we haven't even begun to see what can be done when you can assume somebody else's identity."

"I paid back all the money I owed more than 20 years ago. So there are no victims from the crimes I committed. There was no court order of restitution I paid it back through the technologies I have designed and received royalties on," he said,

He said his obligation to the US government ended 26 years ago. "I said I would continue to work for them on the condition that I received no income from the government.

"To this day I have not accepted one dime in return for my work for the FBI. I support myself through public speaking, books I have written, technologies I have developed for Novell and Unisys The government is forced to pay me, so I return that money at the end of the year through the Treasury department."

He was given three sets of enthusiastic applause at the close of his talk this week to technology specialists, IT security experts, suppliers and finance specialists.

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