Every single person in Northern Ireland with a child under the age of 16 has been urged to keep watch for any unusual activity in their bank accounts after the personal details of more than 237,000 Ulster families were lost on two computer discs.
Families were this morning asking serious questions about where their personal details have gone after Chancellor Alistair Darling told the Commons that two computer discs containing data on around 25 million UK individuals were lost in transit.
HM Revenue and Customs in Northern Ireland confirmed to the Belfast Telegraph that the details of every child benefit recipient in the province would have been on the missing discs. At the last count, there were 237,700 recipients on file, claiming for 446,000 children.
The debacle has raised fears of how useful the information would be to criminals. The data includes parents' and children's names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance and bank and building society numbers.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan said he was "extremely concerned" by the fiasco.
Said the Foyle MP: "It is absolutely stunning that something like this can happen in the public service, and clearly some hard questions will have to be answered about security, but the immediate concern is to ensure that the data, which is password-protected, does not get into the wrong hands. It is extremely important that anyone with a child who notices unusual bank account movements should take action immediately."
Marie Anderson, from the Information Commissioner's Office in Belfast, described the loss as "an unprecedented breach of security" and " very disturbing".