25 million exposed to risk of ID fraud

25 million exposed to risk of ID fraud
25 million exposed to risk of ID fraud

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By Philip Webster
Political Editor
Sean O=E2=80=99Neill and Rhys Blakely
The Times
November 21, 2007

The sensitive personal details of 25 million Britons could have fallen 
into the hands of identity fraudsters after a government agency lost the 
entire child benefit database in the post.

A major police investigation is being conducted after Alistair Darling, 
the Chancellor, admitted yesterday that names, addresses, birth dates, 
national insurance numbers and bank account details of every child 
benefit claimant in the country had gone missing.

The confidential material is on two CDs that were placed in the post by 
a junior employee at the HM Revenue & Customs office in Tyne & Wear more 
than a month ago and have not been seen since.

The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have known about the loss since 
November 10 but there were concerns last night that the police were not 
told for a further five days and the banking industry was not alerted 
until last Friday.

The catastrophic breach of personal security led to the resignation of 
Paul Gray, the chairman of HMRC, and called into question the 
Government=E2=80=99s competence, especially its ability to manage an ID card 
system in the future.

No evidence of criminal activity has been detected but Scotland Yard has 
appointed an expert in organised crime to head the investigation. Acting 
Assistant Commissioner Janet Williams is heading a team of 12 officers 
who are combing Government offices for the lost data. The Serious 
Organised Crime Agency is also advising on the potential criminal abuses 
of information about the identities and finances of 7.25 million British 

Equipped with such detail, identity thieves could plunder bank accounts, 
obtain credit cards and take out fraudulent loans. Households were 
advised last night to monitor their bank accounts carefully for signs of 
irregular activity and, if necessary, to obtain credit reports.

The banking industry has upgraded its fraud detection systems to keep a 
constant watch on all accounts into which child benefit is paid.

Bankers reacted angrily to a suggestion by Mr Darling that he had 
delayed his announcement because the financial sector was =E2=80=9Cadamant=E2=80=9D it 
needed time to prepare. A senior City source said: =E2=80=9CBy 9.30 on Monday we 
were ready to run. It is hard to fathom why any suggestion was made that 
any delay was down to us.=E2=80=9D

Mr Darling told the Commons that the information should never have left 
the HMRC offices and its transfer in unregistered mail was against all 
procedures.He said the missing data was not enough in itelf for someone 
to access an account for fraudulent purposes because passwords and pin 
numbers were required. But he apologised to the country for what he 
described as an =E2=80=9Cextremely serious failure on the part of HMRC to 
protect sensitive personal data entrusted to it.=E2=80=9D

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said: =E2=80=9CThis is an 
extremely serious security breach.=E2=80=9D

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