Jamie Jamieson uses his thumbprint to protect himself from ID thieves and suggests anyone worried about falling victim to this crime should follow his example.
His system costs nothing and is low-tech; it has also received a partial endorsement from one of the UK’s leading experts on credit reporting.
For 13 years now, the 69-year-old has added his thumbprint to any application for credit, whether it’s a mobile phone contract, credit card, loan or mortgage. Crucially, he has also put a note on his credit file that states that if his signature is required for any financial product or service, it must be authenticated by his thumbprint. Any application for credit in his name that doesn’t carry his thumbprint must be turned down by the lender, the note says.
“If modern technology isn’t working, why not use something as simple as this?” says Jamieson, who worked at the government’s monitoring agency for 25 years. “I and others using the system have never fallen victim to ID theft.”
There are several advantages to this method, he says. If someone steals his identity and uses it to fraudulently take out a loan or credit card in his name, he can hold the lender responsible. If there was no thumbprint on the application the lender should not have granted it and it would be 100% the lender’s problem, he says. That’s because credit providers are required to read such notes on people’s credit files when they make an application. So they can’t plead ignorance.
If there was a thumbprint on the paperwork and it was not Jamieson’s, it would be easy for him to prove as such. And, of course, it means anyone trying to get a loan in his name would have to give their own thumbprint. Would a fraudster, when confronted with a demand for a print, really provide it, given that it could be passed to the police? There is a UK-wide database called IDENT1 that contains millions of fingerprints of people who have come into contact with the police, which officers investigating crimes are able to search to see if they can get a match.
Jamie Jamieson, a former GCHQ worker, has added his thumbprint to his credit file.
There is a downside to the scheme, however: it could delay genuine credit applications. But if you don’t apply for much credit you may feel this is a price worth paying.
Although Jamieson’s idea might sound a little off-the-wall, it’s fair to say that the country’s top financial security experts have yet to find a way to stem the rising tide of ID theft. Last month the UK’s fraud prevention service, Cifas, revealed that during the first six months of this year there were a record 89,000 cases of identity fraud, which typically involves criminals pretending to be individuals in order to buy items or take out financial products in their name. The true figure is almost certainly higher, as some people are too embarrassed to admit they have been scammed.
The figures show a sharp rise in identity fraudsters applying for loans, with 11,499 recorded incidents in the six-month period. That is 54% up on the same period last year.
Cifas says: “We have seen identity fraud attempts increase year on year and they are now reaching epidemic levels.” Victims often do not realise they have been targeted until a bill arrives for something they didn’t buy or they have problems with their credit rating.
Jamieson came up with the thumbprint idea in 2004 after being inspired by a scheme in Inverness and other locations in the early 2000s, a few years before the introduction of chip and pin technology in shops and restaurants. The Inverness thumbprint signature scheme was designed to deter card and cheque fraud, and more than 300 businesses in the Scottish city signed up. People paying for goods with a card or cheque were asked to provide their “thumbprint signature” on the till receipt or the cheque (an ink-less gel was used so it didn’t leave a mark). It was hugely successful: the local police reported that in six months the number of incidents involving card fraud had fallen by 84%, while cheque fraud was down 71%. But the move to chip and pin arguably removed the need for such an initiative.
Jamieson, who lives in Scarborough, adapted that idea for his scheme. He latched on to the “notice of correction” which is a short statement people can add to their credit report. It is usually put on to explain something – for example, it might say that you missed a credit card payment, but it was a one-off because you had been made redundant. And anyone can add a notice of correction saying their thumbprint is required on credit applications.
It’s workable if you’re not ‘credit active’ ... it does have merits in certain circumstancesNeil Munroe, credit expert
Jamieson wrote a notice of correction to that effect (see box) and sent it to the three main credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and Callcredit – which added it to the reports they hold on him. In 2007 Equifax gave his initiative its backing, but Jamieson says: “Credit reference agencies and financial institutions should be publicising this. It doesn’t prove you are who you say you are instantly, but it deters someone from pretending to be you. It can prove your innocence while helping to detect a thief. And it acts as a warning to banks and lenders of a possible fraud attempt.”
Neil Munroe, an expert on credit reporting, says: “It’s workable if you’re not ‘credit active’. That’s where Jamieson is coming from, he wants to protect himself. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate it for everyone, but it does have merits in certain circumstances.”
So what are the downsides? The biggest is that if there is a notice of correction on your credit file, a credit application has to be processed manually. Experian says of Jamieson’s scheme: “The industry generally doesn’t recommend this, particularly with the prominence of online applications.” It says that adding a fingerprint request means applications can’t be processed automatically, so they are referred to an individual to be manually reviewed, thereby prolonging the process. However, Experian suggests that if someone has recently been a victim of identity fraud, or there is a high risk of them being defrauded, they could add a notice of correction password to their credit report.
Munroe believes the thumbprint scheme might not be suitable for people who make a lot of applications or younger customers who want credit quickly. However, Jamieson says it doesn’t always cause delays. When he took out a mobile phone contract at Carphone Warehouse a couple of years ago, the credit provider, which must have seen his note, asked to speak to him on the shop’s phone. He signed and thumbprinted the credit agreement there and then, which was accepted. “Would you do that in a shop if you were using stolen information?” he says.
Writing a notice for your file
Jamieson sent a notice of correction to the three main credit reference agencies. It states: “I, Jamie Jamieson, of [his address], do hereby declare that when my signature is required for any financial product or service, I will authenticate it with my thumbprint. Failure by me to comply with this direction should result in the service or product being withheld. Any application without a thumbprint should be considered fraudulent. I will inform you in writing, signed and thumbprinted, of any changes to this notice of correction.”
To follow his example you should include your full name, address, date of birth and contact details. You may be able to submit the notice online or via email. Experian, Equifax and Callcredit also have postal addresses.