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Protect Yourself Against HMRC Scandal

Newsletter issue - December 07.

It's a huge scandal that HMRC have lost a copy of the database containing the personal details, including bank account numbers, of every family that claims child benefit. HMRC have written to all child benefit recipients to apologise, and say the lost discs containing the data are probably still in a Government office somewhere, but they can’t be sure! This does not remove the very real risk that every individual named on those discs, including the partners of the claimants and their children could be the target for identity or bank fraud, now or at any time in the future.

If the missing data does fall into the hands of criminals they could use it to obtain loans, buy goods on credit, or set up bank accounts through which they could launder proceeds from criminal operations. You need to be constantly vigilant about odd bills arriving for items you haven’t ordered, or confirmation of loans you haven’t applied for. If your post suddenly goes missing this can be a sign that someone has applied to redirect your post for criminal aims.

It is unlikely that criminals could access the funds in your existing bank accounts without further information such as passwords or pin numbers. However as many people use a memorable date for a pin number, such as a child’s birthday, it may be advisable to change the relevant pin number immediately. Also don’t forget to check bank accounts held in the names of your children. The money in a child trust fund account can’t be withdrawn until the child reaches 18, but from that date this security is removed.

As a matter of routine you should never dispose of bank or credit card statements in your normal household rubbish. In any case you need to keep all the documents used to complete your tax return for at least one year after the tax return filing date. So bank statements covering the year to 5 April 2007 must be kept until at least 31 January 2009. All business records, including receipts, need to be preserved for at least six years after the end of the year they refer to. When you do decide to have a clear out shred all your statements, including utility bills, before you throw them away. Shredded paper makes an excellent addition to the compost heap!

Never give personal details over the phone or to personal callers, even if they claim to be from your bank, water board or power company. If the transaction is important call them back on a telephone number you already know. It also goes without saying you should never open emails which are supposedly from your bank asking you to confirm security details. There is a particularly nasty scam doing the rounds at the moment in the form of an email apparently from Paypal confirming payment into your account. Be suspicious of all unexpected emails and never click on links embedded an email from someone you don’t know.

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