Undercover investigation reveals raft of failings from data-selling firms

Oliver Gill
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Many of Britain's pensioners have been targeted by scammers (Source: Getty)

An undercover investigation has revealed the miniscule cost of buying personal information from data-selling firms.

Posing as a would-be pension scammer, consumer group Which managed to access details of members of the public for as little as 4p.

The investigation also highlighted significant failings by data-selling firms in undertaking sufficient due diligence on who it is selling the information to.

Read more: Why pensions freedoms could be a scandal in the waiting

George Osborne's controversial pension freedoms meant, from April 2015, up 25 per cent of pension pots could be withdrawn as a lump sum tax-free.

The freedoms have provided an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of the legislative changes by conning those taking lump sums and redirecting the proceeds elsewhere.

Due diligence

Researchers from Which posed as a firm hoping to dupe people out of money from early pension releases. Contacting 14 data-selling firms, more than two-thirds (10) were prepared to pass on personal information for a tiny fee.

The data firms also did not check the Companies House register or the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to corroborate the investigators bogus company details. This was because the company the investigators purported to work for was not registered on either Companies House or ICO publicly available databases.

Read more: Record lump sum take-up risks widespread pension poverty

"Our investigation highlights that sensitive personal and financial data is being traded on a huge scale, with some companies apparently willing to sell to anyone who comes calling, said Which's Harry Rose.

“Millions are already pestered by nuisance callers and targeted by scammers. To avoid ending up on a list, never give permission for your data to be shared by third parties and if you are called out of the blue about a financial opportunity, hang up and report it to the regulator.”

The data that could be obtained by investigators included information on salaries, pensions, homes and jobs.

Easy access

An invoice issued by one company for nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information at just 4p each with a household income of £40,000+ including phone number and address
Another firm issued an invoice for 2,200 names and numbers of people with a household income of £35,000+ at 66p per item
One company sent a sample telephone list on which 13 out of 18 people were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) – the central opt-out register where people can record their preference not to receive unsolicited marketing calls
Another company issued an invoice containing bank details for 5,000 records at 24p per item with assurances that the data would be sent as soon as payment was made

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