FBI hunts `identity thieves'

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THE FBI is advising senior officers in Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) on how to combat one of the fastest-growing crimes in the US - "identity theft".

The two services are investigating drug couriers from West Africa and the Caribbean who have stolen the identities of British citizens in order to carry out their illegal activities. The Home Office is also considering changing the format of birth certificates, to make it harder to use them fraudulently.

Criminals can assume a person's identity simply by stealing credit cards or a passport. More sinister is the growing use of "data-mining" software on the Internet to drag up information such as national insurance numbers and bank account details, which provides criminals with enough information to convince customs officials and benefits offices that they are law-abiding citizens.

The NCIS says it is concerned about the effect identity theft can have on an innocent victim. "This is a growing problem, especially in the drugs trade," added a spokeswoman. "Stolen passports, for example, are a valuable commodity in the criminal world.

"These days you can also store a lot of information on a disk and get details from the Internet, despite data protection checks."

Officers from the NCIS are currently investigating how the identity of an 18-year-old man from Birmingham was stolen by a criminal in the US.

Shabiyah Davidson was alerted by police after a teenage drug smuggler using his name was jailed in America after an air-rage attack in May this year.

The drug smuggler had swallowed plastic bags of raw cocaine, which had burst inside his body. He said he was from Birmingham and gave the real Mr Davidson's birth date.

In another case, Sonia Plummer, from London, had her identity hijacked by an illegal immigrant, who then claimed benefits for looking after a non-existent elderly relative.

The woman used Mrs Plummer's birth certificate details and national insurance number to get married in Mrs Plummer's name, as well as claiming hundreds of pounds in state benefits.