Sceptics have long wondered what plastic card crime might really do to the economy given that the sums defrauded looked small. Perhaps the credit crunch points to an answer nobody wants to hear - credit and debit cards on subscription.

The stresses on plastic economy are various, but they have this year suddenly combined to amplify one another. That credit card companies are hard up right now won't come as surprise, but they are also facing surging levels of fraud on credit cards that are, in many countries, guaranteed by the issuer. That, and fraud protection teams, cost a lot of money.

The latest bank industry APACS figures for the UK continue a depressing trend, showing debit and credit card fraud running at £302 million ($550 million) for the half year to June 2008. That's up from the same period last year, and only, of course, reckons reported fraud. About 40 percent of the fraud was carried out on UK customers and businesses from abroad, underscoring the international nature of this type of crime.

So that's around £600 million for one country alone. Now multiply this by the number of countries in the industrialised world. Not a pretty figure.

Victim number one of all this will be debit cards, a method of online payment many security companies now advise against. Vulnerable to attacks on a victim's entire balance, and lacking insurance for customers (including when companies go bust), they will go back to being an alternative to cash which is what they were always intended to be.

That leaves credit cards, the very strength of which, their insurance, is what will start to tell if e-crime continues to rise. The only logical way for lenders to pay for all this is to both restrict the number of cards in circulation and charge for them, probably on the back of some sort of ID theft service cobbled on to make the charges look more reasonable.

Card crime has been seen as a side issue throughout the long years of the credit binge, but those days are coming to an end. Expect to buy a credit card in future and be thankful to have one at all.