Collaring illegal cold-callers is getting harder, watchdog says

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Tracking down those who act illegally in the cold-calling sector is an “increasingly difficult job” but the privacy watchdog said it will robustly investigate claims about the sale of confidential data.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into claims made by a national newspaper that firms are sharing sensitive personal data such as pension details and medical records.

The names of 3,000 sick and disabled people were sold to undercover reporters for 19p each, according to the Daily Mail.

No checks were made on who the reporters – posing as a cold-calling outfit – really were, the newspaper said.

The revelations about an alleged trade in medical records follow the Mail’s claims that pensioners’ salaries, the value of their investments and the size of 
their pensions are being sold for as little as 5p without their consent.

The financial details are allegedly being bought by fraudsters and cold-calling firms.

Dave Clancy, the ICO’s anti-spam investigation team manager, said investigating cold-calling firms was an “increasingly difficult job” because of offshore operations and tactics such as spoof numbers.

But he said the organisation would use its “best endeavours”, and recent prosecutions showed it had the ability to bring those acting illegally to justice.

The ICO can issue fines of up to £500,000 for the most serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, while it can also pursue criminal prosecutions around unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data.

It is now looking to establish whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

Tony Neate, chief executive of national internet safety initiative Get Safe Online, a joint partnership between bodies such as the Government and the National Crime Agency, said the matter should be treated as a “highest priority” and if necessary there should be a change in the law.

Mr Neate said some people may inadvertently agree to have their information passed on to a third party when filling out a form.

Tom McPhail, of financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown said: “People may inadvertently agree to a firm selling their details to others when they sign up for other services. This shows the importance of choosing the firms you work with carefully. A good starting point is to only deal with regulated firms and to check what their policy is on client data.”

Ofcom’s director of consumer protection, Lynn Parker, said: “Ofcom has fined companies around £2m for breaking the rules on making silent and abandoned calls and we take this problem extremely seriously.”