Findings from a recent study by APACS show that the amount of overseas fraud exploiting UK debit and credit cards has hit a five-year low. However with ID fraud as one of the UK’s fastest-growing crimes, this should not be a cause for credit card protection complacency.

The figures show credit card fraud overseas £92.5m in 2004, which is the lowest figure since 1999, and following a £138.4m peak in 2001. This downward trend was largely attributed to improved fraud detection systems which enable card companies to spot unusual spending patterns associated with the fraudulent use of cards, rather than the recent introduction of chip and pin cards.

Sandra Quinn of APACS said “Simple things like making sure your cards never leave your sight, and remembering to dispose of receipts carefully, can make all the difference.” Holidaymakers need to take care when using their plastic abroad, especially in the US, France and Spain, which account for nearly half of fraud against UK cards.

Foreign fraud on UK cards now accounts for 18% of total UK card fraud, which reached just under £505 million in 2004.

APACS advised that holiday makers should:

* Keep valuables safe and out of sight, for example in a concealed money belt

* When driving, keep handbags and wallets out of sight of opportunistic thieves, especially in slow-moving traffic and always remove cards and valuables from parked cars

* When paying be wary of letting your card out of your sight

* When you return home, check your statements carefully for any unfamiliar transactions

* Inform your bank in advance that you will be using your card abroad

* Carefully dispose of any receipts or statements

* Don’t tell anyone your PIN, even if they claim to be from the bank or police.

* If you have chip and pin cards make sure you memorise your pin numbers

* Make sure you have the 24-hour phone number to cancel your cards in case they are lost or stolen

Source: APACS ( )

This contrasts sharply with the rapid increase in ID fraud which was valued at an estimated £1.3bn last year. MyCallCredit warned that up to ten million people could have credit facilities registered in their name which they were no longer keeping track of. This could seriously put them at risk from ID fraud.

Which? magazine has suggested that about 1 in 4 adults in the UK have either had their identity stolen or know someone who has fallen victim to ID fraud. ID thieves can run up credit card bills, as well as ordering additional new cards, accessing the victim’s bank accounts, carrying out various other forms of fraud in the victim’s name, such as with government benefits, and taking out fraudulent loans.

In an effort to reduce ID theft, Which? ( ) advised consumers to:

* not use their mother’s maiden name or place of birth as a security password

* check their credit record annually

* ensure the bank knows of any address changes

* shred or rip-up post before throwing it in the bin

* never use the same password for all accounts

* not carry address details in purses or wallets

* check bank accounts and credit transaction files regularly

Further information on credit cards:

Regulations: Financial Services Authority []

Credit card comparisons:

Payment Protection: Barclaycard