Could fingerprints beat identity fraud?

Chris Torney / 18 October 2017

Two ways to beat identity theft – one simple, one high tech – could help stop fraudsters in their tracks. Here's how they work...



One of the fastest growing types of fraud of recent years has been identity theft. This involves criminals using their victims’ personal and banking details to obtain credit cards or loans, for example.

What is identity theft?

With as little information as someone’s name, address and date of birth, it can be possible for fraudsters to convince a bank to agree to a loan and then transfer the borrowed money into an account they control.

A simple solution?

But a recent article in The Guardian has highlighted a clever way of reducing the chances of being hit by this kind of scam. The newspaper reports that former GCHQ worker Jamie Jameson, who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has added a thumbprint to his credit file with the stipulation that banks should only approve loan applications on his behalf if they carry a matching print.

Five things your bank will never ask you.

Credit agencies’ role

When banks make lending decisions, they usually check the applicant’s credit record via one of the three major credit-reference agencies in the UK – CallCredit, Equifax and Experian.

The record shows what other loans the individual has as well as their repayment record. But it is possible to add a note to your credit file that will be seen by any company making a check: often these notes are to explain why a loan or mortgage payment has been missed in the past, especially if it was not your fault.

Top five mistakes that damage your credit report.

But Jameson decided to add a note stating that his thumbprint must be present on any loan applications. The 69-year-old said that, even if credit was taken out fraudulently in his name, he would be able to hold the lender responsible for failing to check the thumbprint properly.

How to add a note to your credit file

A note – officially known as a notice of correction – can be appended to your credit file by contacting the main agencies via the following links: ExperianEquifax and Callcredit. In Jameson’s case, his note said that whenever his signature was required to apply for any type of credit, it should be accompanied by his thumbprint as well. If not, the application should be considered fraudulent.

Is fingerprint authentification likely to become more common?

In recent years, technology companies such as Apple have started letting smartphone or tablet owners unlock their devices using a thumb- or fingerprint as well as, or instead of, a passcode.

And credit-card company Mastercard has recently been trialling a payment card in South Africa, which has a built-in fingerprint sensor that can be used in the same way as a PIN number to validate purchases. Similar technology has been used in the past but it has required a separate fingerprint scanner to be available at the point of sale – which mean that retailers which did not have the scanners would not be able to use the cards.

How to use credit cards to protect your consumer rights.

Fingerprints are not 100% secure, as criminals can in theory copy prints that have been left on glasses or other glossy surfaces. But Mastercard believes that this approach is likely to lead to a reduction in card fraud.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.