E-statements plugged as solution to mail fraud

NSW Police and security analyst encourage greater e-statement usage, but figures show snail mail is still popular

Mail fraud and identity theft like that clamped down on by NSW Police this week could be eliminated if bank customers opt for electronic-statements, according to a security analyst.

Called Operation Gulliver the NSW Police teamed up with Australia Post to bust a mail fraud and identity theft ring this week.

In a statement, the NSW Police said "stolen cheques are being altered or counterfeited and laundered through false bank accounts opened by so-called 'runners' as part of an organised criminal enterprise".

"Other documents, such as electricity bills or bank correspondence, are often stolen to facilitate the creation of those fake accounts," the statement reads.

The Police pointed to footage of a man in North Sydney stealing from letterboxes as evidence of the ease at which criminals can obtain personal details. The police posted the footage on YouTube and advised the public to consider using e-statements.

According to estimates provided to Computerworld by three of the country's biggest banks, roughly a third of customers registered for online transactions with the major banks have their statements delivered electronically, rather than by mail.

While there are no official figures, on average 35 to 50 percent of Internet banking customers of ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac use electronic-statements.

IBRS security analyst James Turner said banking customers should switch to electronic statements to mitigate the risk of mail fraud.

“The short answer is yes [that] if everyone used e-statements, this type of mail fraud would be eliminated,” Turner said.

“E-statements are much quicker, environmentally friendly, and they offer more budget control."

Turner said the security benefits of e-statements would outweigh the risks if paper statements were eliminated, although he noted that online security concerns would need to be addressed.

“The more information centralised, the more attractive it is to cyber criminals. The corollary is that the banks will have to provide more security and better educate their users,” he said.

ANZ has some 1.8 million active Internet banking users, of which more than 650,000 are registered to receive e-statements. A spokeswoman for the bank said in a written statement Internet banking is the organisation’s fastest growing direct channel with transaction volume and value growing by more than 600 per cent over the past 5 years.

“We expect usage to continue to grow as more customers use Internet banking as a simple and secure way to do their banking,” she said.

The Commonwealth Bank has seen its registered online user base increase from 2.5 million in 2005 to 5.1 million in 2009, of which 2.6 million were receiving electronic statements at the end of last year, an increase of 1 million according to figures previously announced its 2009 annual report.

Westpac reports its number of registered Internet banking users has increased from 21 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2009, with 38 percent signed on to receive e-statements last year.

A spokeswoman for the bank said levels are expected to increase before flattening out due to broadband penetration.

“We would expect continued growth at similar levels over the next few years but that it will probably most likely plateau at some stage in the future which I am told correlates with the trend of broadband usage within Australia,” she said.

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Tags nsw policeinternet bankinganz bankWestpacCommonwealth Bank of Australiae-statement

More about ANZ Banking GroupAustralia PostCommonwealth Bank of AustraliaIBRSNSW PoliceWestpacWestpac

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