Could Commuters Become Victims of Crime During a Ticket Check?

Anyone who commutes on a regular basis is familiar with an inspector coming along to check the tickets.  But could you become a victim of crime by presenting that ticket?

New Payment Methods

Over the past few years the Oyster smart card has moved from being the new kid on the block to the primary way commuters in the London area pay for their journey.  Recently, mainline operators such as East Midlands, First Eastern and Southern have either adopted Oyster or rolled out their own smart card schemes.  Now Transport for London is going one step further: they have rolled out payment by contactless bank card to most forms of transport in the London area.   You simply touch in and out with your bank card just as you would with Oyster and your account is debited by the appropriate amount for the journey.

Another technical innovation is the way smartphone is increasingly become the centre of our lives.  It is no longer just a means of communication but act as address book, diary, social media centre, entertainment hub and it is now set to become a wallet too, with apps providing an easy means of payment for products and services.  It seems likely that the facility for your smartphone to act as your train ticket is not far away.

Getting Defrauded During a Ticket Check

Anyone who has used an Oyster card to travel on the DLR or some mainline services will be familiar with the hand-held machines against which you hold your smartcard, so that the ticket inspector can (quite rightly) check you have paid for your journey.  But what if the person asking you to hold your ticket against the machine were not a genuine ticket inspector?

Consumer programmes regularly report how criminals are increasingly employing clever deceptions to defraud the public, often posing as officials to lend credibility to their scams, e.g. they have been known to impersonate members of credit card fraud departments, couriers, and Microsoft anti-virus representatives to deceive us.   A recent episode of Fake Britain even highlighted a case where criminals posed police offers “serving a warrant” to search an address.  Once they had gained entry they tied up the property owner and robbed the place.

So, sadly in the 21st century we are having to get used to being much more alert to possible scams and can no longer assume that people are who they claim to be.   A few years ago most of us would have let the uniformed gas meter reader in without a second thought.  These days most of us are alert enough to check ID before letting them in.  But how many of us think to check that the person claiming to be a conductor or revenue protection officer (RPO) on the train is genuine?

What Crimes Could They Commit?

Smart payment methods are not immune to scams.  Criminals may be quick to take advantage of gaps in new systems and the public’s unfamiliarity with the risks.  Technically minded criminals may be quite capable of building their own devices to read data from the chips in smartcards and bank cards, or might use methods such as Bluetooth to read data from a mobile phone.  Security on the Oyster cards was cracked by a Team in Nijmegen University as far back as 2008 and experience tells us that most security systems tend not to stay completely secure for long.  If someone posing as a conductor took your paper ticket ran off with it, this would be a pretty obvious and pointless crime that would probably end in their arrest.  But with paperless tickets, what is to stop a fake conductor stealing credit from every passenger?  Nobody would be any the wiser until they checked their account later, by which time the criminal would be long since gone.

Does your smartphone contain names, addresses and dates of birth of all your friends?  Perhaps you have your social media login stored on your phone – these details are very useful for a criminal to pose as you to defraud your friends, or see when you’ve posted your holiday dates to Facebook, so they know when your house will be empty.

Even in a more traditional paper-based ticket environment there is still some scope for a criminal behaviour, e.g. defrauding the train company (by collecting genuine penalty fares), defrauding passengers by imposing fake penalty fares or even, in a more extreme scenario, persuading a young woman to leave the train in order to commit a sexual assault.   This scenario is quite imaginable at some of the quieter unmanned stations.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Crime

Fortunately we are not alone in combatting crime:  British Transport Police is ahead of the game here and they have confirmed that they aware of these risks.

Train operating companies (TOCs) issue their staff with photo IDs and (depending on the company) either instruct them to have ID out on display at all times or to show passengers ID on request.  British Transport Police has indicated they will approach those TOCs with a “show ID on request” policy, to see if they would consider switching to a “have ID out on display at all times” policy.  This is a very welcome initiative.

MPs have also made sure passengers are protected by making it a statutory obligation for railway officials to show ID when exercising their rights under the Railway Byelaws, such as carrying out a ticket inspection.  This is found in Section 24.3 of the Railway Byelaws and section 25 of TfL’s Railway Byelaws:

Identification of authorised persons: An authorised person who is exercising any power conferred on him by any of these Byelaws shall produce a form of identification when requested to do so and such identification shall state the name of his employer and shall contain a means of identifying the authorised person.

Checking for Identification

The current means of identification used by TOCs is a photo ID.

The thing that will make the real difference here is by commuters being aware of the risks and staying alert.  If someone approaches you without their photo ID out on display and claims to be a ticket inspector, then ask to see their photo ID.  Any genuine staff member will be happy to produce ID.   Be suspicious if anyone tries to fob you off with a name badge or claims they are in “full uniform” (it’s always worth asking yourself how much uniform they are really wearing).  Neither of those things constitute ID, as they do not prove that the individual bearing them is entitled to do so, i.e. they could be faked or stolen.  Even when you are presented with a photo ID, check it bears the name of the rail company, the name of the individual carrying it and that the photo matches the person in front of you.

If you have any doubt call British Transport Police for assistance on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016 – or in an emergency (for example if the “conductor” starts exhibiting threatening behaviour or blocking your way) call 999.  The police are there for the protection of the travelling public and if criminals do pose as ticket inspectors, the police will be keen to catch them.