Fraud alert: identity theft up by 20 per cent

IDENTITY theft is on the rise because of the credit crunch, a firm of solicitors has warned.

IDENTITY theft is on the rise because of the credit crunch, a firm of solicitors has warned.Lyme Regis-based solicitor Christopher Gamwell says he has seen an increase in the number of clients being targeted by as much as 20 per cent in the last 18 months.And victims stand to lose thousands of pounds, which can be difficult to recoup.Mr Gamwell, of Kitson and Trotman, in Broad Street, said: "If everybody across the district is experiencing the same reports that we are, I would say identity theft is fairly widespread."When it happens, individuals seem to lose sums in the thousands rather than the hundreds. The impact on an individual is very marked. "With clients, especially the elderly, it causes a great amount of worry and stress and there's no way to compensate for that."He advised people that if their information had been misused, through no fault of their own, they should be able to recover the money.But he warned it could be more difficult if they have willingly passed on their details.He called on banks to be more proactive in highlighting the risk of identity theft.He said: "People have to be very careful about giving out confidential details by phone or e-mail. Some seem extremely plausible and use the bank's screen and logo. "If the requests are made for confidential information, you should contact your bank and ask why do they need to know that."The firm also has to take precautions in the current climate. He added: "We have to be extremely careful about establishing the identity of our existing clients."Even if we have been dealing with clients for 20 years, we have to ask to see their passports.