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Identity theft fears are prompting some UK consumers to avoid buying goods or services online or over the phone, according to a national survey published this week.

The poll of 1,000 Brits found that one in five had already stopped making telephone purchases because of the threat of identity theft. A similar proportion (17 per cent) has moved away from online banking and 13 per cent of the sample has stopped using online retailing.

The survey revealed marked difference in attitudes to telephone and online services among different age groups. Telephone purchases are most likely to have been abandoned by the youngest age band - where 25 per cent of 16 to 24 years old say they have stopped making use of this service - whereas online banking has been dropped by 23 per cent in the oldest age group surveyed - 55 to 64 years old.

"The extent to which the UK public is holding back from purchases either online or by telephone is surprisingly high", said David Noone, a director at call centre technology firm Intervoice, which sponsored the survey. "These are people who say they have actually stopped using or buying through these channels - not just cut back a little."

While the survey points to a drop in consumer confidence over security fears other figures reveal online spending remains bouyant. UK shoppers spent over £1.5bn online during May 2005, 35.6 per cent (£408 m) more than a year earlier, and 13 per cent (£180m) more than they did in April, according to industry figures.

Perhaps those that are spending online are spending more? In any case concerns about identity theft are far from groundless yet general confusion about what ID theft is, and how it should be tackled are evident from the survey's findings.

The great ID fraud swindle

Identity theft cost the UK an estimated £1.3bn a year, at least according to UK government (estimates). Readily accessible information such as a name and address can go a long way to help criminals obtain further key identity details, from which the profile of a target can be created much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Once enough information is obtained loans and credit card accounts can be obtained under false names. Sophisticated phishing attacks, card cloning, PIN thefts by shoulder surfing and duping call centre agents into divulging information are also commonly used tactics by ID fraudsters.

Consumers do not believe current and traditional methods of security are good enough to protect them against identity theft. Yet Intervoice's survey also reveals many consumers are failing to play their part in keeping confidential information secret.

Six in ten (57 per cent) of respondents to the survey said they had given out a password, bank account number or other vital piece of personal information to a friend or family member. Only 16 per cent of the sample agreed that giving personal details to friends and family is a matter for concern. Intervoice reckons too much emphasis is placed upon passwords in authorising online transactions arguing voice verification technology in call centres is a more secure alternative. ®

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