THOUSANDS of county council employees are demanding answers after being informed they have been left at risk of identity fraud following the theft of their bank and national insurance details.

Banks across the county are on high alert after the Worcester News revealed on Saturday how a laptop computer containing the personal information of 16,239 staff, and even some ex-employees, was taken in a street robbery.

It was in the hands of an employee of the council's IT supplier Serco at the time but the firm has declined to give more details on the robbery.

The council has sent out letters to all employees affected. The letter gives brief details of what happened and gives a hotline number.

The hotline, set up by the council, has received more than 300 calls already from concerned workers desperate for more information on what they can do to help protect themselves from fraudsters.

One past employee, who left her job at the county council in September, said she was angry about the lack of advice she has received and is contemplating changing her bank account details.

"Many employees will not be aware how the information can be used and the letter from the county council to its employees gives no advice at all," she said. "It could well be up to a period of six months before any of this data is used for identity theft.

"Not only can the information be used for setting up credit or debit arrangements but even if bank account details are changed, a person's name and national insurance data, I understand, can be used also to steal identity."

Comments on the Worcester News website - - reveal the anger of people affected.

Andy Lewis said: "What on earth was a laptop containing all these confidential details doing off council premises? Heads need to roll for this breathtaking degree of negligence and incompetence."

Another message from concerned and angry county council employee' said: "What was this individual doing carrying a laptop with such sensitive information down the street? I suggest the county council reviews its contract with this company if there are such flagrant breaches of security."

Jackie Alderson, head of communications at Worcestershire County Council, said the laptop stolen was not in the hands of a county council employee but was the responsibility of the council's IT supplier Serco.

"It is an enormous concern to those staff involved and we are still urging people to ring our helpline, which is staffed by fully-trained finance staff, if they have any concerns. We are telling them all to be extra vigilant when it comes to looking at their bank accounts.

"We are in talks with Serco about how this happened and how we are to continue working with them."

Serco has not revealed where or when the laptop was taken, with speculation it could have been as long as two weeks ago.

Mark Vaughan, head of communications at Serco, said: "Policies are not being reviewed as we have a policy in place. An investigation is under way."

Local banks have been informed of the security breach and spokesmen for both Lloyds TSB and Barclays said staff were being extra vigilant.

Both said fraudsters would have difficulty stealing identities from the information held on the computer alone, but that customers should keep an eye on their accounts and report anything unusual straight away.

Anyone concerned can visit, which gives advice on what to do should you fall victim to identity theft and advice on how to prevent it.