Advice issued over ID theft fears

URGENT advice was today issued to tens of thousands of people in Suffolk who fear they could be affected by the government's lost data blunder.Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling today made a fresh apology for the lapse in security after two disks containing personal data on 25million people were lost in the post.

URGENT advice was today issued to tens of thousands of people in Suffolk who fear they could be affected by the government's lost data blunder.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling today made a fresh apology for the lapse in security after two disks containing personal data on 25million people were lost in the post.

Suffolk families were warned to monitor their bank accounts as the full crisis caused by a junior official from HM Revenue and Customs headquarters in Newcastle who used internal mail to post the entire child benefit records to the National Audit Office in London developed.

The original package, which was sent three times, was not posted recorded delivery and never arrived.

The head of Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray, resigned over the debacle, and the Metropolitan Police have launched an investigation. The chancellor has also ordered an inquiry into security procedures at HMRC.

Although the chancellor said there is no evidence the information has fallen into the wrong hands, that has not stopped millions of people across the country worrying that their personal details will be used fraudulently.

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Ian Burnett, from Ipswich Citizen's Advice Bureau, said people should follow the advice of HMRC and monitor their banking details very carefully.

He said: “If you have internet banking then I would urge you to monitor that much more carefully - watch all the transactions more often and alert your bank if there is anything that looks odd.”

However he stressed that there was no evidence that the disks had fallen into the hands of anyone with sinister intentions.

“They could have been shredded somewhere in a sorting office or just have fallen down the back of a cabinet”, he added.

The details would be enough for criminals to use in other types of fraud, such as setting up credit or financial agreements like mobile phone accounts. There may also be child protection concerns, as the disks contained names, addresses and dates of birth of children.

Angela Englefield, 40, a parent with children at Cliff Lane Primary School, said: “When I saw it on the news I thought 'oh no!' I don't know if there is anything you can do about it. It is frightening that someone could have my details but I'm not sure if I should be worried yet or if I protected. These things do happen.”

Melissa Fisk, 27, who has two children at the school, said: “I am a bit worried. I don't know if we'll get a letter from the government to say if there is something to worry about. I hope every parent does get a letter.”

Francis Thomas, from Suffolk County Council, said: “We accept many people are concerned at this news but we would emphasise that there is no suggestion at this time that anything untoward has happened to the disks.

“The best thing for people to do is to follow the advice of the Revenue and Customs.”

He added that the council was allowing staff to contact their banks during work time if they were concerned about their accounts.

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People are advised to check their bank accounts for any irregular activity but the government say there is no need to close them as fraudsters would not be able to access them.

Personal or account details that are requested unexpectedly by phone or by email should not be given.

Banking industry body Apacs advised people who bank online to change passwords if they are a child's name or date of birth

If people are paid benefits through a bank or building society, the government says they are aware of the matter and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect their customers.

If you have concerns call the Child Benefit Helpline on 0845 3021444.

EVENING Star reporter FRANCES LEATE found herself caught up in the government's child benefit records blunder. Here she tells how she reacted to the news.

IDENTITY theft is a crime on the rise in Britain, with hundreds of people affected by it every single day.

So imagine my dismay when I discovered my personal details, the name and address of my family, my national insurance number and even my bank details had somehow become 'lost in the post'.

Receiving child benefit directly into my bank account every month for my seven-year-old daughter, Tabetha, means that I am one of 25 million people in Britain that has been left vulnerable to identity theft.

The fact that this was not a blunder I myself had made, but in fact the HM Revenue and Customs department, was even more of a slap in the face.

It was almost beyond belief that such a fundamental thing as personal privacy could not be protected by those who claim to want to protect us the most - our government.

We have no choice but to submit this information to those allegedly competent people working in the government who deal with basic entitlements such as child benefit; it is a requirement of law.

We therefore take their competency and reliability as a given thing-so if we can't trust them to keep our personal data safe, then who can we trust?

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