The Public: Nervous customers check bank accounts

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Indy Politics

Banks sought to calm customers over the loss of their personal information yesterday as members of the public checked whether their accounts had been targeted by criminals.

Financial institutions reported a sharp increase in the number of calls following news of the blunder, while Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) child benefit hotline was also receiving a high volume of calls. A taxpayers' group complained that the Government was making money out of the crisis by charging for the hotline.

The banking industry has urged customers to check their accounts regularly for unusual activity. The names, addresses and national insurance numbers exposed by the data breach could be used by criminals to access bank accounts or apply for credit cards in the names of members of the public. Apacs, the banking industry body, said that anyone using their child's name or date of birth for a password should input a new one.

The high street clearing banks said they were putting extra surveillance measures in place to monitor accounts. The institutions, which had been given advance notice of the data breach, said they were coping with the rise in public inquiries, which started after the news broke on Tuesday afternoon.

An HSBC spokesman said: "We did see some increase, particularly after the 6pm news broadcast. Most customers were simply looking for reassurance that we had increased security, which we have done."

A spokeswoman for Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest said: "We have seen an increase in calls. Mostly customers are concerned and getting in touch."

Lloyds TSB said call volumes were "higher than normal" but "nothing exceptional". Abbey said it had experienced a "spike" in calls.

Sandra Quinn, director of communications at Apacs, said: "Banks were geared up to handle, a higher number of calls than usual... but, by 11am, the major banks were all reporting business as usual." She said there was no reason for anyone to close a bank account.

The Taxpayers' Alliance, which campaigns for lower taxes, said the use of an 0845 number for the child benefit hotline was "rubbing salt into the wounds" of the millions of families affected by the fiasco. High demand would also result in callers being put on hold, it warned, predicting a total bill running into millions of pounds.

Campaign director Mark Wallace said: "It is absolutely disgraceful that, having incompetently put 25 million people at risk of fraud and identity theft, HMRC now expects those affected to pay to phone the helpline."

Barclays said it had reviewed its internal security procedures. "We have briefed staff to be extra vigilant, and will be asking customers for additional information," a spokesman said.

Customers concerned about the risk of ID fraud can check their credit file with the UK's three credit reference agencies, Experian, Equifax and Call Credit.

They can also take out "protective registration" via the fraud prevention service Cifas, which ensures that further identity checks are made before credit is granted.

Richard Brown, chief executive of the personal finance website www.money net.co.uk, said: "This unprecedented level of risk should be taken as a wake-up call for all consumers. ID fraud is a thriving business... Checking statements once a month simply isn't often enough any more."

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