Approximately 25 million people in the UK could now be at risk of identity theft following a serious Government error. It has emerged that two unencrypted discs containing personal details such as dates of birth, addresses and bank account details were lost in the post last month.
The details of 7.25 million families claiming child benefit were lost when a junior official breached security regulations by sending the discs out in the internal post via courier. A police search, which started last week, failed to turn up the missing discs, causing serious concerns over identity fraud and theft. Although the Government says there is no proof that information has found its way into the hands of criminals, banks and building societies have been warned to be vigilant.
Shadow chancellor, George Osborne, said: "Half the country will be very anxious about the safety of their family and the security and the whole country will be wondering how on earth the government allowed this to happen." Alistair Darling’s job could again be in jeopardy as some fear another run on banks may take place, even before the Northern Rock situation has been resolved. The Chancellor has apologised for the "extremely serious failure" and "very, very bad situation" but he is unlikely to resign over the matter, while the chairman of HM Revenue and Customs has already stepped down.
APACS chief executive, Paul Smee, played down the problem. “There is no need for customers to ask for a new account or to contact their bank or building society. There is no evidence of an increase in suspicious activity on those customers’ accounts since the data was mislaid on October 18,” he said.
However, head of savings and current accounts at moneysupermarket.com, Kevin Mountford, spoke with greater urgency. "The person in possession of these discs has names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers and bank account details – everything needed to conduct a massive fraud,” he warned.
"This will clearly be a worrying time for many people. Hopefully the data will not get in the hands of fraudsters but we still recommend that people check their bank account records for any irregular activity,” advised MORE TH>N’s Mike Holliday-Williams.
According to Experian, limiting the amount of personal information on social networking sites, ensuring passwords are not connected to details that could be on the discs – such as children’s names or dates of birth – and being wary of hoax calls and emails should help to protect people from identity fraud, the country’s fastest-growing crime. It indicates that obtaining a credit report could also help people check for any illegal activity on accounts.
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