Sensitive personal data is being traded on a huge scale, often illegally, and for as little as 4p a record a new investigation by Which? has shown.
Undercover reports contacted 14 firms that sell data, posing as a dodgy firm with the intention to contact people about early pension releases – a common pension scam.
Ten of the companies offered personal information for a total of more than half a million people aged 50 and over, including details about salary, pensions, homes and jobs. Some of the information was available for as little as 4p.
Some of the examples included:
- A company prepared to sell nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information at just 4p each including phone numbers and addresses
- Another firm listed 2,200 names and numbers of people with a household income of £35,000+ for sale 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 offering bank details for 5,000 records at 24p per item
The ten that offered information for sale failed to carry out basic checks according to Which? as their company was not registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – a must for anyone trading in personal data.
Many companies also appeared to be in breach of the ICO’s guidance on the consent consumers give to have their details shared. For consent to be valid it should be ‘knowingly and freely given, clear and specific’. Some companies were using such vague consent that it was unlikely to pass the ICO’s test.
Digi.me’s founder and Executive Chairman Julian Ranger said: “This type of activity emphasises why we need a new relationship with personal data. That need not mean businesses cannot access personal data, only that they should do so with consent.
“By returning data to the individual we can arrive at a world where we both share more AND have greater privacy.”
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.”
The ICO has said it will look into the findings, which it called “very concerning”, and will consider enforcement action if companies are found to have broken the law.