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MPs call for ID theft czar

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UK politicians are calling for the creation of an identity theft "czar" to lead the fight against the growing form of crime.

The Parliamentary All Party Group on Identity Fraud said the role is needed to co-ordinate work by the government, police, and private sector.

The committee of MPs also want police to appoint dedicated identity fraud officers and want to see a government-backed identity fraud awareness campaign, aimed in particular at young adults, a group reckoned to be particularly careless in disposing of bank statements and credit card receipts. MPs suggested social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace might provide a suitable venue for getting the message across.

Hmmm.

Industry, most notably the banking sector, has being active for years in advising on steps to safeguard against ID theft. When the government talks about identity theft it's usually in terms of justifying the supposed need for an identity card scheme.

Appointing dedicated identity fraud officers appears to be even more of a non-starter. Last April police stopped taking reports of credit card fraud, instead advising victims to report crimes to their bank. Police resources are stretched, at the best of times, and resources in the investigation of cybercrime (with a few notable exceptions) tend to get pushed towards identifying and dealing with the victims and perpetrators of child abuse.

Last year more than 170,000 cases of identity fraud were logged. The crime is reckoned to cost the economy approximately £1.7bn a year, the BBC reports. MPs in the committee, which was convened last year, urged tougher sanctions against organisations that place people's personal data in danger.

Nigel Evans, chair of the group, said: "Throughout the course of this study the group has been stunned by the damage identity fraud is having on the lives of our constituents across the country. Identity fraudsters have had it too easy for too long."

Explaining the need for a publicity campaign and greater police action, Evans told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "A third of people throw out sensitive material without so much as tearing it in half, and there is such a thing as bin raiding... 22 of 36 police forces in England don't have ID fraud in their local policing plan."

UK fraud protection body CIFAS reckons only one in 100 cases of ID thefts are investigated by police.

But Sandra Quinn, of banking industry association APACS, expressed doubts about whether an ID theft czar to co-ordinate policy would help. "What we are really looking for is all industries working together and that has to be the solution to the problem," she said.

Publication of the MPs' report coincides with the National Identity Fraud Prevention Week, which begins on Monday. ®

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