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Online privacy at risk

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The amount of personal information that is shared by companies or available online means people could be at greater risk of being targeted by fraudsters than they think, warns Which?

Which? spokesperson Neil Fowler, was shocked to discover how much personal information about him was available on publicly accessible websites. Using only his name and occupation, a researcher was able to track down private details including Fowler’s close family’s names and the floorplans to his home, including access points.

Fraudsters can use the internet to gather personal information, and then use this knowledge to trick people into revealing PINs, passwords or other security information. People who leave personal details on social networking sites are particularly at risk – especially if they use the default privacy setting.

Organisations that collect personal data must ensure that individuals understand how their information is stored and used. Which? is concerned that Transport for London (TFL) and Virgin Mobile may not be complying with the Data Protection Act, as TFL doesn’t tell Oyster card users that their journey data is recorded and Virgin Mobile is not clear with its customers about how their data is used.

Neil Fowler, spokesperson for Which?, said: “It was a real shock to see how much personal information about me could be found online, which could potentially be used by crooks to commit fraud. We all need to take steps to protect our data – both online and offline – by being more aware of how our personal data could be used and taking care who we share it with.

“Which? is concerned that some private companies aren’t complying with the Data Protection Act and we urge them to tighten up their processes, so that consumers can be reassured that their data is in safe hands.”

Among Which?’s suggestions are checking bank and credit card statements to make sure there are no unfamiliar transactions,  using a shredder to get rid of documents you don’t need and not using the same password for more than one account.


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