Social media giant Facebook is allowing the sales of thousands of peoples personal data to take place in open groups with tens of thousands of members for as little as 16p.
Favoured by hackers and scammers, posts advertising data sets such as “UK Old Age High Income Leads” went seemingly unnoticed on the site.
The investigation team, of Morning Live on BBC One, purchased the details of 1,000 people living in Britain, including their names, home addresses, email addresses, estimated net worth, and an estimated income bracket, for a fee of just £160.
To prevent fraud from taking place, the programme contacted all 1000 people to notify them that their details had been sold illegally online.
Some of the people contacted complained of having been plagued with scam emails or phone calls which they now believe could be related to their personal information being sold online.
Sarah from East Sussex, whose personal details had been bought told the show: “It’s worrying. Worrying having elderly parents that are a little bit gullible. I’ve blocked probably about 100 calls on my housephone.”
Anthony from Eastbourne who also had his details purchased added: “I seem to be inundated with phone calls from certain companies. Window sales, people are phoning non-stop, maybe three times a day.
Fraudsters will buy the data, marketed as “leads”, and then use it as the starting point for many different types of scams, the investigators claim.
Morning Live contacted Mike Andrews from the National Trading Standards E-Crimes unit, who told the programme: “[This is] obviously of great concern that information like this is being traded on Facebook.”
“We know that fraudsters and scammers will gather personal information and use that to ruthlessly exploit consumers and repeatedly victimize them.”Mike Andrews
All the people on the database were contacted by the BBC and the data will be securely deleted, the broadcaster stressed.
Matt Allwright added: “We were so shocked to learn that Facebook was allowing these types of sales to happen. We thought we were only buying 200 people’s data, but ended up with 1000.
“This type of information is invaluable to scammers and cyber criminals, and there’s no way it should be this available on line. But the fact it is, means that we need to keep our eyes and ears open and our wits about us when it comes to our personal information.”
“As part of our efforts to combat scams and fraud, we don’t allow people to share or trade personal or confidential information about others on Facebook. This includes telephone numbers, home addresses and personal financial information,” a Meta spokesperson said.
“We remove this content when we become aware of it, and have taken down the Groups in question.”
If you suspect an account of yours has been hacked, check out the National Cyber Security Centre site for advice – https://haveibeenpwned.com. You can also call 159 which is a secure number that connects you directly to your bank if you think you’re being scammed.