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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Privacy in peril
A woman looks downcast next to a pile of bills
Tuesday 29 August at 2002 BST

We are all in danger of someone else making a fortune out of us.

It is not hard to steal personal details.

Identity theft is on the rise in the UK but little is being done to stop it.

It already affects about 100,000 people every year in the UK.

The fraudsters use stolen personal details to gain access to bank accounts, take out loans, run up bills, and create fake documents like passports to carry out other crimes.

It not only causes misery for the victims but currently costs the economy 1.7bn annually.

So is it time for tough new controls like those in America?

In the US, 34 states have already made it law to reveal breaches affecting identity security.

They took action because millions of people were being put at risk through security lapses by both business and government.

Consumer groups believe that if people are properly informed they can take preventative action to stop identity theft.

Chris A'Court travels to the US to examine its new measures, and asks why the UK is lagging behind.

Remote viewing

While there, Chris is shown how easy it is to view some people's sensitive personal information online.

Chris A'Court with Johnny Long, a professional hacker and full-time researcher for Computer Sciences Corporation in the US
Chris A'Court hears how the hackers can access sensitive data
From thousands of miles away, Johnny Long, a professional hacker and full-time researcher for Computer Sciences Corporation in the US, easily found the credit report of a stranger living in London.

Later Chris A'Court was able to arrange a meeting with the stranger, called Jack.

Jack confirmed he had stored the credit report on his computer and unwittingly and unknowingly made it available for others to see when he installed a popular piece of software used for file transfers.

Should more be done to protect consumers from identity theft and should the Data Protection Act be strengthened?

The programme puts these questions to the UK's Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and the government minister in charge of identity issues, Joan Ryan MP.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box Investigates was broadcast on Tuesday 29 August at 2002 BST and repeated on Sunday 3 September at 1702 BST.

Presenter: Chris A'Court
Producers: Kirsten Lass and Bob Howard

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