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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
Crackdown on identity theft
Stressed man
Identity theft can cause huge stress and worry for its victims

A fraudster could be arrested for mere possession of a false document, in a new attempt by the government to stem the rising tide of identity fraud.

The new measures would mean criminals who were caught with stolen documents, such as fake passports or driving licences, could face up to two years in prison.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing type of fraud in the UK and costs Britain 1.3bn a year.

It can cause huge financial and emotional stress to its victims.

Costly hassle

Announcing the changes, Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, said the proposals would make it "much easier and swifter" for police to arrest criminals.

"Ordinary people's lives can be shattered by identity theft," said the minister.

"Even if people do not lose out financially, the process of getting their records put right it is still time consuming and stressful."

The Home Office estimates it takes the average victim of identity theft 300 hours to put their records straight.

In practice, the new offence would mean that if someone could not prove there was a reason why they were holding a false document, they could be arrested.

Under current rules, the onus is on the police to prove the documents have been stolen.

The type of documents are likely to include UK and foreign passports, foreign identity cards, along with UK and foreign driving licences.

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