Save, make, understand money

Household Bills

Scammers can buy your personal data for as little as 4p

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

An investigation has revealed just how easy and cheap it is to buy the personal data of unwitting consumers, which can then be used by scammers to defraud people of their life savings.

Undercover researchers from campaign group Which? set up a fake business with the aim of contacting people about early pension releases – a common scam.

It investigated 14 data-selling companies and while four refused to deal with the bogus firm, 10 failed to carry out due diligence which enabled the Which? team to discuss buying personal information of more than half a million people aged 50 and over.

Shockingly, the team was able to secure an invoice by one company for nearly 500,000 pieces of personal information, including phone number and addresses, at just 4p each. Another firm issued an invoice for 2,220 names and numbers of people with a household income of £35,000 at 66p per item.

One company sent a sample telephone list where 13 out of 18 people were registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) so should not receive unsolicited marketing emails.

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 it received payment.

Had the data firms carried out some basic research, Which? said they could have easily seen that the bogus business 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.

When Which? contacted the companies investigated, many defended their actions stating ‘they would have carried out further checks’ before sharing the data. The company that shared sample data (with 13 of 18 registered with TPS) did admit that it ’did not carry out the necessary checks on this occasion’. Alarmingly, one of the companies wasn’t even registered with the ICO at the time of the investigation – a criminal offence.

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.

“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.”