An illegal railcard scam – exposed today by The Mail on Sunday – could be costing unwitting train firms millions of pounds and forcing up the price of tickets for passengers.
Fare-dodgers are using a simple trick advertised on the internet that allows them to lie about their age to fraudulently obtain the cards, which give them a 30 per cent discount on rail and Tube journeys.
People aged 16 to 25 qualify for the £30-a-year discount railcards, allowing them to save hundreds of pounds a year on tickets.
But The Mail on Sunday has discovered that fraudsters can obtain railcards from National Rail’s website within minutes by using a fake driving licence number during the application process.
Unchallenged: Reporter Simon Murphy with his newly issued 16-25 Railcard and discounted tickets, despite being 29 years old
National Rail, a trade association for rail franchises which issues the cards, asks applicants to insert their driving licence number to verify their identity and age.
But it has been failing to check whether the licence number is genuine and issuing discount railcards to people who have lied about their age. Fraudsters can get a digital railcard sent to a smartphone or have a card delivered in the post.
During our investigation, a 29-year-old reporter was able to successfully obtain a 16-25 Railcard. The loophole could also benefit older travellers who wish to inflate their age: a 53-year-old reporter downloaded a Senior Railcard – aimed at those who are 60 and over. Both reporters bought discounted tickets with the cards without being challenged.
The 16-25 Railcard was used to buy an off-peak day return from London Victoria to Gatwick for £10.75 – which should have cost £16.30. The reporter showed his Railcard at ticket barriers at each end of the journey and was waved through by staff.
The Senior Railcard was used to buy an anytime single ticket from London Euston to Birmingham costing £58.10 – a saving of £29.90.
When informed about the loophole by the MoS, a National Rail spokeswoman initially appeared to threaten our reporters with the law. She suggested that as our railcards had been ‘obtained by deception’, highlighting their fraudulent use could lead to a prosecution.
However, National Rail later issued a statement pledging to clamp down on the loophole.
Last night, Bruce Williamson from Railfuture, a group that campaigns for improved train services, demanded action.
He said: ‘Allowing these people to get away with cheap fares is not only unfair but damages the credibility of the system. This cost is passed on to innocent customers.’
A National Rail spokesman said: ‘Fraudulent use of railcards and railcard-discounted tickets is an offence costing millions each year, which could be reinvested in the network. We will vigorously tackle any loopholes which leave the system open to abuse.’