The Identity Arms Race

Table of Contents

Peter Taylor Reports for Phronesis Technologies

Zombies, Clones and Synths

Identity theft is a term understood by many. It involves a criminal assuming our identity to undertake activities such as open new lines of credit or to simply steal money from our bank accounts. According to Forbes, 69% of all fraud is identity fraud. Three popular techniques are employed by fraudsters to commit identity fraud: zombies, clones, and synths.


‘Clones’ are the most common type of identity thieves. By simply passing themselves off as their victim, they can take over bank accounts, open new lines of credit and draw benefits, until the victim or their bank becomes aware. Personal data which enables this, including Name, Address, DOB, Bank Account Details, and even PIN’s can be purchased on the dark web, as previously discussed.

Image of what could be the North Korea leader and Donald Trump, however they are impersonators. Highlighting the commonly seen identity theft / similarities in the real world.


‘Zombies’ refers to the stolen identities of inactive (with regards to using credit, social security, etc) individuals. This inactivity could be due to an individual emigrating, or sadly, due to being deceased. In the UK, a National Insurance (NI) number is issued shortly after a birth is registered, released to the individual when they reach the working age. The combination of a name and NI is often sufficient to be accepted as identification, which can be built upon with other documentation to apply for driving licenses, bank accounts, credit cards and so on.


With regards to the criminal underworld, synthetic identities are a comparatively new way of committing fraud. In this type of identity theft, fraudsters create a completely synthetic identity and allow time to pass, so it can be ‘aged’ and used for future fraud. In some cases, it has been found fraudsters have waited several years to enact their plans. It is estimated that there around 1 million such identities currently in use in the USA and 200,000 in the UK. It is assumed that many fraudsters have switched to this method to avoid the ‘russian roulette’ of buying identities online, to then discover that the associated credit rating is poor, limiting the ability to exploit the victim, and thereby minimising ROI. By creating their own identities, criminals can ensure that they perfectly ‘fit’ their intended fraudulent activities, often creating associated fake email addresses, social media profiles and applying for credit (which is normally rejected) to build up enough of a persona that they can then be successful accepted, by banks, online retailers etc. It seems quite paradoxical that through the rejection of credit, a credit score for a synthetic identity can be created! According to Forbes, around 20% of identity fraud is synthetic fraud. Insurers have also reported seeing rises in instances of synthetic accounts purchasing motor policies, urging consumers to be vigilant.

As COVID-19 keeps us reliant on digital interactions, it is essential that you verify all aspects of an identity, and that they belong to a genuine person.

In need of more robust authentication services? Phronesis Technologies can help you ascertain the true identity of an individual, utilising data stored by the top 4 UK mobile operators. Contact them for further information.

Peter Taylor is an accomplished and distinguished fraud expert and investigator. He begun his career with Greater Manchester Police, before obtaining the position of Head of Fraud for Major Loss Adjusters. Since founding a consultancy firm, Peter has expanded his areas of expertise and is a cross-industry specialist in and cybercrime and counter-fraud measures.

As Phronesis continues to expand, now offering our Mobile Identity and Fraud Prevention services directly to enterprise, we wanted to commission research into cybercrime, and the many facets within, to both add to our understanding, and to share with our growing network of partners, clients, followers, and of course to those who generally operate in the sector.

Sponsored by Phronesis Technologies Limited.

Edits and afterword by Toni Pickering

References: Synthetic Identity Theft Still Growing In Automotive, Just Not As Fast, TransUnion Says (

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