Insurers, mortgage lenders, and the credit card industry spent $493 million worldwide on anti-fraud technology last year, according to a survey by Meridien Research Inc.

The Needham, Mass.-based company found that consumer fraud worldwide in those industries amounted to $152 billion in 1996.

This is the first time such figures are available from Meridien. The findings are based on interviews with an unspecified number of financial services companies and technology providers.

Banking technology consultants said they were surprised that fraud losses were so high, but the insurance industry absorbed 80% of them.

Health insurers alone absorbed more than half, and spent about $88.7 million on anti-fraud technology. Meriden said insurers are expected to spend aggressively in on such technology over the next five years.

The data from credit card issuers and processors suggest their efforts are effective, and indeed may be overkill. They spent $162.7 million - about one-third of survey's total-and suffered only about 1% of the losses.

Mortgage lenders spent about $29.6 million.

The Meridien report shows that fraud prevention usually involves analyzing customer data, investigating the involvement of third parties in transactions, verifying identities, and checking for duplicate transactions.

Barbara Smiley, director of research at Meridien and author of the report, said, "Advances in data mining and artificial intelligence applications are having a dramatic impact on this field."

She added that the financial services industry is quickly improving its ability to predict fraud and assess risk, which are two of the most important countermeasures to fraud.

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