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BizReport : Law & Regulation : October 19, 2011

Fellowes reports 4 million British identity theft victims

Last week a British Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Letwin, was discovered to have recklessly disposed of important government papers in a park trash can. This week it is National Identity Fraud Prevention Week in the UK. Perhaps government officials could learn a thing or two from the research and advice provided by document-shredding machine manufacturers Fellowes.

by Helen Leggatt

The Brits are pretty savvy when it comes to identity theft and 95% of respondents to a survey by Fellowes (.pdf) said they were aware of ID fraud.

Despite this awareness almost 60% don't chase up missing postal deliveries and, incredibly, 46% wouldn't immediately report a lost passport or driving license. And, when personal documents are discarded, just a quarter bother to shred them before putting them out in the trash.

Brits are a little more cautious online. The majority (86%) use some sort of security software to protect themselves online. Over half (57%) don't divulge personal information via email or telephone without some sort of verification of authenticity.

But many are letting their guard down on social networking sites and 88% admit to sharing information that could be used to steal their identities (date of birth, address) on sites such as Facebook. Just 18% were concerned about sharing sensitive information on social networks.

So, what's the damage? Fellowes found that 7% of UK residents (4 million) have fallen victim to identity theft. Apart from the emotional and practical damage to the individual the average monetary cost of the fraud was $1,575 with some losing as much as $15,000. However, this may just be the tip of the iceberg as Jamey Johnson, head of Action Fraud, the UK's fraud reporting and advice centre, explains.

"Last month alone (September) Action Fraud saw over $386,000 worth of loss due to identity theft," said Johnson. "The worrying part is that this figure was generated from a limited amount of reports, suggesting the amount lost to ID theft would be much higher if more people were reporting."

Businesses must do all they can to reassure customers that any personal data they keep is not misused. Most (96%) people are not convinced that data they give to businesses is completely safe from fraudsters, found Fellowes research. Over half (54%) worry that data stored by businesses they deal with might be stolen, up from 43% last year.

A recent study from McCann Truth Central uncovered similar attitudes towards privacy. Over half (55%) of people they surveyed said they would like a commitment from businesses that data they share won't be passed on to third parties and 51% want to be told how their data will be used.

For tips on how to prevent identity fraud, for both individuals and businesses, visit the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week campaign's micro-site.

Tags: identity theft, online fraud, online privacy, online security, research, social network, UK

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