A quarter of UK adults have had their identity stolen or know somebody who's been a victim of ID fraud, according to a survey conducted by consumer magazine Which?
Government research estimates that an identity theft happens every four minutes in the UK, costing approximately £1.3bn a year.
Which? says its research into ID fraud found that it was relatively simple to steal someone's identity.
An internal researcher at the magazine managed to get hold of editor Malcolm Coles' personal details quite easily, including a copy of Coles' birth certificate, his mother's maiden name, place of birth, mortgage details and medical data. An attempt to access his credit card account using the gathered data failed but only because Coles had not told his bank that he had recently changed address.
Says Coles: "I couldn't believe how easy it was for someone else to assume my identity. Sitting on my desk was a folder with my birth certificate, a print-out of how often I went to the gym and my mortgage details.
"If this is what an amateur can do, imagine how easy it is for an experienced criminal."
Half of the 975 people surveyed also admited that they used the same password for all their online accounts. Which? is calling for the financial services industry to tighten up security measures.
"Even a simple step taken by industry to stop accepting mother's maiden name and place of birth as default passwords would be a good start as it's too easy for fraudsters to get hold of this basic information, which is where the process of stealing an identify begins," says Cole.
Which? advises customers not to use their mother's maiden name or place of birth as a security password and to never use the same password for more than one account. Customers are also advised to check credit files annually for suspect applications.
The survey also found that seven in ten people favoured a move to comulsory ID cards in a bid to cut fraud levels, but this dropped to 31% when they were told about a £35 fee for the cards.