NUISANCE CALLERS and fraudsters are able to buy the phone numbers and personal details of almost anyone from unscrupulous traders for as little as 4p each, a consumer body has warned.
Data brokers, who deal in personal details acquired from marketing companies, were accused of failing to run even basic checks on potential clients before passing on the information.
An undercover investigation by the watchdog Which? Money found “numerous” examples of irresponsible behaviour by 10 data-selling companies, who collectively offered to sell personal information about more than half a million people aged 50 and over.
The details included data on salary, pensions, homes and jobs.
One company quoted just 4p each for nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information, including phone numbers and addresses, on households with an income of £40,000 and above.
Another firm quoted 66p per item for 2,200 names and numbers of people with a household income of £35,000 and above.
A third company sent undercover investigators a sample telephone list on which 13 out of 18 people had registered to opt out of unsolicited marketing calls.
Ten of the 14 companies investigated did not carry out basic checks on the fake business set up by the undercover investigators, which would have established that it was not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), not listed at Companies House, and not registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Which? said many companies appeared to be in breach of the commissioner’s guidance on whether consumers had agreed to share their details for marketing purposes.
Data brokers typically make money by buying personal information from consumer-facing companies, then collating it and selling it on to firms marketing other products.
The fake company set up by Which? told the brokers it wanted to contact people about releasing their pensions early, a practice described by FCA as “almost certainly a scam”.
Which? Money editor Harry Rose 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.
“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.”
An spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office said: “The findings from Which? are very concerning and appear to raise serious issues about the compliance of organisations with data protection law. People have the right to know what happens with their personal data and be given a choice about how their details are used.
“We will be investigating these findings as they may provide a new line of inquiry to our ongoing work looking at the buying and selling of personal data. Where we have found companies have not followed the law, we will consider enforcement action.”
Consumers can opt out of sharing their details with data brokers by ticking a box whenever they fill in a form, online or on paper. However, the wording is often ambiguous and designed to confuse.