Identity Theft in the UK
Recently there was some serious tax credit fraud in the UK. Basically, there is a tax-credit system that allows taxpayers to get a refund for some of their taxes if they meet certain criteria. Politically, this was a major objective of the Labour Party. So the Inland Revenue (the UK version of the IRS) made it as easy as possible to apply for this refund. One of the ways taxpayers could apply was via a Web portal.
Unfortunately, the only details necessary when applying were the applicant’s National Insurance number (the UK version of the Social Security number) and mother’s maiden name. The refund was then paid directly into any bank account specified on the application form. Anyone who knows anything about security can guess what happened. Estimates are that fifteen millions pounds has been stolen by criminal syndicates.
The press has been treating this as an issue of identity theft, talking about how criminals went Dumpster diving to get National Insurance numbers and so forth. I have seen very little about how the authentication scheme failed. The system tried — using semi-secret information like NI number and mother’s maiden name — to authenticate the person. Instead, the system should have tried to authenticate the transaction. Even a simple verification step — does the name on the account match the name of the person who should receive the refund — would have gone a long way to preventing this type of fraud.