March 30th, 2007 at 13:59 UTC by Ross Anderson
Today’s news coverage of the theft of 46m credit card numbers from TK Maxx underlines a number of important issues in security, economics and regulation. First, US cardholders are treated much better than customers here – over there, the store will have to write to them and apologise. Here, cardholders might not have been told at all were it not that some US cardholders also had their data stolen from the computer centre in Watford. We need a breach reporting law in the UK; even the ICO agrees.
Second, from the end of this month, UK citizens won’t be able to report bank or card fraud to the police; you’ll have to report it to the bank instead, which may or may not then report it to the police. (The Home Office wants to massage the crime statistics downwards, while the banks want to be able to control and direct such police investigations as take place.)
Third, this week the UK government agreed to support the EU Payment Services Directive, which (unless the European Parliament amends it) looks set to level down consumer protection against card fraud in Europe to the lowest common denominator.
Oh, and I think it’s disgraceful that the police’s Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit is jointly funded and staffed by the banks. The Financial Ombudsman service, which is also funded by the banks, is notoriously biased against cardholders, and it’s not acceptable for the police to follow them down that path. When bankers tell customers who complain about fraud ‘Our systems are secure so it must be your fault’, that’s fraud. Police officers should not side with fraudsters against their victims. And it’s not just financial crime investigations that suffer because policemen leave it to the banks to investigate and adjudicate card fraud; when policemen don’t understand fraud, they screw up elsewhere too. For example, there have been dozens of cases where people whose credit card numbers were stolen and used to buy child pornography were wrongfully prosecuted, including at least one tragic case.