Your personal details could be on sale for as little as 4p

Your personal details for sale

Scammers, fraudsters and nuisance callers can snap up the personal details of thousands of people, for a little as 4p per person, according to an undercover investigation by Which? It found that's it's alarmingly easy for criminals to buy any details they like.

See also: Too many accounts leaves us at risk from hackers and scammers

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See also: Six million have been victims of financial fraud

Which? investigated 14 companies that sell people's data. It posed as a dodgy company with plans to contact people about early pension release - which is a very common scam targeting pensioners.

The briefest of checks should have stopped these companies in their tracks. They would have discovered that the fake business set up by Which? was not listed at Companies House; that it wasn't FCA regulated - despite the claim it offered investment advice; and that it was not registered with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) – a must for anyone trading in personal data.

In fact, it only stopped four of them.

Details for sale

Researchers asked for the personal details of more than half a million people aged 50 and over, and were promised details including salary, pensions, homes and jobs. They were able to order forms or invoices from 10 of the 14 companies - although it chose not to actually buy any data.

They also uncovered an array of irresponsible behaviour. This included an invoice issued by one company for nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information at just 4p each with a household income of over £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 over £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.

When Which? contacted the companies in its investigation, they defended their actions, arguing that they would have carried out further checks before sharing any data. The one company that shared sample data admitted that it 'did not carry out the necessary checks on this occasion'.

Harry Rose, Which? Money Editor, said: "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."

Protect yourself

The Information Commissioner is supposed to oversee these companies, and clamp down on any concerning activities. It has seen the report, and we can expect it to follow up with the companies concerned.

However, we shouldn't rely entirely on other people to keep our data private. It's essential that we take steps to do so as well. Personal information can end up in the hands of list brokers if people have entered an online competition or answered a lifestyle survey. If you are sending any details for this purpose, it's important to check the small print to see how any information can be used. In most cases you can tick a box to say that you don't want your details shared, but in some instances sharing details is a condition of entering the competition. It's up to you to decide whether it's worth paying this price.

Rose suggests: "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."

Victims of scams and fraud
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Victims of scams and fraud
Susan Tollefsen, Britain's oldest first time mother, was scammed out of £160,000 by a fraudster she met on an online dating site. A man claiming to be an Italian gold and diamond dealer told her he was in the middle of a land deal but couldn't access cash. Tollefsen felt sorry for him and started wiring him money, eventually selling her jewellery, her flat and borrowing £32,000 from friends to give him. Read the full story here.
In March 2015 an American woman who was only identified as 'Sarah' went on the popular US television programme the Dr Phil Show to reveal she had sent $1.4 million to a man that she had never met. Although she was certain she wasn't being scammed, her cousin made her go on the programme because she was convinced it was a scam. Find out more about the story here.
Maggie Surridge employed Lee Slocombe to lay a £350 deck in her garden in March 2015. However Slocombe used a combination of lies to scam Surridge out of thousands of pounds. He told Surridge that the front and back walls were dangerous and needed rebuilding and also conned her into building a porch, all for the cost of £8,500. Read the full story here.
It's not just individuals who can be the victims of scams, big corporations can also fall foul of these fraudulent practices. In 2015 Claire Dunleavy repeatedly used a 7p 'reduced' sticker to get significant amounts of money off her shopping at an Asda store in Burslem, ending up with her paying just £15.66 for a shop that should have cost £69.02. Read the full story here.
Sylvia Kneller, 76, was conned out of £200,000 over the space of 56 years thanks to scam mail. The pensioner became addicted to responding to the fraudsters, convinced that she would one day win a fortune. Ms Kneller would receive letters claiming she had won large sums of money but she needed to send processing fees to claim her prize. Learn about the full story here
Leslie Jubb, 103, became Britain's oldest scam victim in August last year when he was conned out of £60,000 after being sent an endless stream of catalogues promising prizes in return for purchasing overpriced goods. The extent of this con was discovered when Mr Jubb temporarily moved into a care home and his family discovered what he had lost. Find out more about this story here
Stephen Cox won more than £100,000 on the National Lottery in 2003 but has been left with nothing after falling victim to two conmen. The 63-year-old was pressured into handing over £60,000 to the men who told him his roof needed fixing. They walked him into banks and building societies persuading him to part with £80,000 of cash while doing no work in return. See the full story here
Last year the Metropolitan Police released CCTV footage of a woman who had £250 stolen at a cash machine in Dagenham. The scam involved two men distracting the woman at the machine, pressing the button for £250 then taking the money and running away. Read about the full story here.
Rebecca Ferguson shot to fame as a runner up on the X-Factor in 2010 but fell victim to a scam artist last year when someone she had believed to be a friend conned her out of £43,000. Rachel Taylor befriended the singer in 2012 and claimed to be a qualified accountant, so Ferguson allowed her to look after her finances. Instead of doing this Taylor stole £43,000 from the Liverpudlian singer. Read more here
When Rebecca Lewis discovered her fiance had started a relationship with a woman he met online she packed her bags to leave. But that didn't stop her checking out the mystery woman, Rebecca quickly realised Paul Rusher's new love was actually part of a romance scam. She told Paul just before he sent the scammers £2,000 which was supposed to bring his new girlfriend to England. Find the full story here.

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