This evening (Tuesday), you should know by now that HM Revenue and Customs has lost computer discs containing the entire child benefit records, including the personal details of 25 million people – covering 7.25 million families overall. The two discs contain the names, addresses, dates of birth and bank account details of people who received child benefit. They also include National Insurance numbers.
The reason why people should be really be paying attention to this is the details on the lost discs would be sought-after by fraudsters. The contents of the discs, according to Alistair Darling MP, was password protected. However, the much more disturbing part is that it is unclear (at the time or writing this) is whether or not the discs data was encrypted. But more to the point, these details should not have been stored in this medium, and distributed.
The advice for everybody is as follows:
- Minimise the information you post on social networking sites. Organised gangs are now focusing on ID fraud as a profit centre and they know that many people give away useful snippets that could be passwords or key dates giving access to your bank and card accounts. Edit out the names of pets, mother’s maiden name, where you went to school and anything else you might use as a password or PIN.
- Check your bank statements carefully. With your account data and basic personal information, criminals could try to get hold of your money. If you spot any unfamiliar transactions, tell your bank immediately and explain the circumstances
- Check your statements for the next few months extra closely. Just because this is the big issue now, it does not mean that should the data have got into the wrong hands that it won’t be used later
- There should be no need for you to close your account and open a new one
- If you bank online, monitor your online statement and change passwords if they are a child’s name, date of birth, or family member’s name
- Under no circumstances should you answer questions from persons calling from your bank asking for details, or to check that nothing has ‘happened’ on your account. This maybe done either through email or a phone call. In any case, you should always be the one to contact your bank about suspicious activity, not ‘someone’, unexpectedly to you. Watch out for hoax calls, letters or e-mails. Taking advantage of your distress in the wake of a data breach, criminals may call, e-mail or write pretending to need further information in order to protect you. In fact, they hope to rip you off more thoroughly – so don’t give away information to people you do not know. Check with organisations that might have a genuine reason for contacting you before you part with your data
- Banks also warn customers to be on the lookout for signs of ID theft and fraud – such as regular post like bank statements going missing, bills for items you have not bought, or letters approving or denying you credit you know nothing about
Ensure that your bank and credit card account passwords do not relate to the data that could be compromised. Many of us tend to use details such as children’s names and memorable dates as passwords to protect our bank and credit card accounts. Fraudsters are likely to make a good guess at these passwords which will give them access to your finances for further theft and much more. Make sure you update your passwords on a regular basis and use unique words that do not relate to data that could be compromised in a data breach
- Get a credit report for nothing. Experian.co.uk offer a service called Credit Expert which offers free credit reports for up to 30 days, and will then charge £6.99 per month thereafter. Look at your credit report. The information in the Child Benefit Agency records is enough for a criminal to apply for loans, credit cards and even mortgages in your name – as well as other forms of credit such as mobile telephone and catalogue accounts. Your credit report lists all your credit commitments and recent applications for credit, so you can instantly see if someone has been trying to use your ID and put a stop to problems before they can develop. It’s well worth doing this, especially if you have never got a report before. Experian.co.uk
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a Child Benefit Helpline on 0845 302 1444 for anyone who want more details.
For advice on good passwords, have a look at my posting here from last year titled Passing the password grade.