Identity theft has reached epidemic levels in the UK, with credit card fraud soaring, figures show.

Last year, a record 189,108 cases were reported to authorities, where victims had their accounts – and lives – raided by imposter criminals.

Most cases involved fraudsters pretending to be someone else to access their savings, buy items or take out loans or car insurance in their name.

The total represents an 8% year-on-year rise in this type of scam.

Fraud prevention service Cifas said plastic card was rising the fastest – with 82,608 reports of credit card fraud marking a 41% increase since 2017.

The number of victims aged 21 and under also rose 26%, while the over-60s saw an alarming 34% increase on the previous year.

Cifas said criminals are intentionally targetting the most financially secure generation – who are most likely to be accepted for credit.

Rise of the over 50 money mule’

The number of middle-aged people becoming money mules has also risen sharply, Cifas said.

It has seen a 35% year-on-year increase in financial crime involving 40 to 60-year-olds.

Money mules help criminals to launder money and they may be targeted through social media with the promise of being able to make easy money.

Sometimes criminals enticing people to be money mules may pose as genuine employers advertising jobs.

A money mule shares their bank details, allowing cash which may be the proceeds from crimes to flow through their account and into other accounts – potentially so that other crimes can be committed.

Fraudsters may target people as money mules who do not have a criminal background, in the hope that the payments will slip more easily under the radar.

Money mules may not initially realise they are committing a crime.

But people who try to stop being money mules once they have started may be threatened with violence by the criminals who roped them in

If they are caught they could face prison, as well as consequences for their ability to manage their finances, such as having their bank account closed and finding it difficult to apply for credit in the future.

Mike Haley, at Cifas, said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Laura Suter, at investment platform AJ Bell, added: “Fraud cases are on the rise, with almost 324,000 cases of fraud reported last year, an increase of 6%. However, the actual figures will be far higher as often people are too embarrassed to report that they have been victims and don’t even want to tell family and friends.

“As we increasingly use online services for all areas of our lives we need to make sure that we’re savvy with our details online, particularly older age groups who might be newer to using the internet.”