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Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006, 06:48 GMT 07:48 UK
Waste bins 'an ID theft goldmine'
Rubbish bins in London
Be careful what you throw out, say police
Householders are still throwing out too many documents that help criminals steal their identity a survey suggests.

To help solve the problem police and other consumer organisations have launched their second national identity fraud prevention week.

A bin-raiding test in London found nearly half of the 120 tested homes had thrown away enough information for their identity to be stolen.

The government has estimated that ID fraud cost the UK 1.7bn last year.

According to CIFAS, the UK's fraud prevention service, identity theft has risen more than five-fold from 20,000 cases in 1999 to 137,000 in 2005.

But experts have suggested that the true figure of ID fraud cases is in fact far higher.

Wandsworth dustbins

Do not use your mother's maiden name or place of birth as a security password
Check your credit record annually
If you move, make sure you let your bank know
Shred or rip-up post before throwing it in the bin
Never use the same password for all your accounts
Do not carry address details in your wallet
Source: Which?

The bin-raiding experiment - commissioned by paper shredder manufacturer Fellowes and backed by the Metropolitan Police, Crimestoppers, UK fraud prevention service Cifas and several credit rating agencies - was carried out in four streets in the London borough of Wandsworth.

Researchers, helped by the council, rifled through the rubbish and re-cycling boxes thrown out by the residents.

The results gave a hint at the ease with which criminals might be able to steal valuable data.

Credit and debit card numbers had been thrown away in their rubbish by 30% of the 120 homes, the researchers found.

Documents containing bank account numbers and sort codes had been thrown away by 46% of those whose rubbish was investigated.

And 73% had thrown out paper showing their exact signature on a credit or debit card, the report said.

Such a small sample is not representative, either geographically or demographically, of the wider UK population.

But the government believes this sort of carelessness is one reason why identity fraud has been a growing problem in the last few years.

Fast growing crime

"Identity fraud is costing the UK billions of pounds a year, and is one of Britain's fastest growing crimes," said Nigel Evans, MP for Ribble Valley and chair of the all party group on identity fraud. "Yet people are still not doing enough to protect themselves.

Throwing away your personal details is as good as advertising them in the local paper.
Nigel Evans MP

"Throwing away your personal details is as good as advertising them in the local paper. We are making it far too easy for the identity thieves," he added.

Professor Martin Gill, an expert on ID fraud from the University of Leicester, told the BBC's Five Live that shredding bills was not enough.

He said he had spoken to offenders who took such things as bank statements and utility bills during burglaries.

"Bag snatches and pick-pockets is another way they get information, so you've really got to be careful across the board.

"Computing and the internet has its own little dangers, so we've got to make sure we pay attention there. And here is the problem with this. There are lots of ways offenders get information - and we really need to be aware of them and not make it easy."

Criminal call

Campaigners have been calling for ID theft to be made a criminal offence in the UK, at present only using a stolen identity to obtain goods and services by deception is outlawed.

In the USA, which faced an upsurge in ID theft earlier than the UK, stealing someone's identity is now an jailable offence.

One reason for the stiff penalties is that in the US the problem of ID theft can be exacerbated by the use of social security numbers.

The wide use of social security numbers can mean that an individual's identity can be thoroughly compromised by criminals, analysts said.

And in some extreme cases, according to CIFAS, victims have had to declare themselves legally dead to resolve the situation, a phenomena known as 'pseudocide'.

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