Silencing the data racket

Related tags Data protection Data protection act 1998 Confidence trick Fraud

Michelle Perrett and Adam Withrington find out how licensees are still getting caught out by a rogue data protection scam first reported four months...

Michelle Perrett and Adam Withrington find out how licensees are still getting caught out by a rogue data protection scam first reported four months ago.

Since April thousands of licensees and other businesses have received threatening letters from rogue data protection agencies.

The letter appears to be official and demands a payment of £95 to sign up to the data protection register. If licensees fail to pay up, it threatens a fine of £5,000.

Although the letters are a scam it seems they are set to continue as, shockingly, very little is being done to stop them by the authorities. The letters are not issued by an official government agency and the vast majority of licensees don't need to sign up. Those that do, for instance if they have CCTV on the premises, only have to pay £35 to register with the government.

The majority of these rogue agencies, which operate all over the country, are run by individual fraudsters who rely on the fact that small businesses will be scared into paying the fee of £95.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is the only official agency responsible for data registration and licensees have been advised by it to ignore these notices. So what is being done to put a stop to these rogue companies that are ripping off hard-working licensees? Not enough, it seems. The most worrying thing about these types of scams is that although they are managing to fleece people, what they are doing is not actually illegal. As long as these companies are signing licensees up with the ICO then they are not actually committing a crime.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has confirmed that licensees are being signed up and is pursuing as many of these companies as it can for misleading advertising but it can only act after someone has made an official complaint. A spokesman from the OFT said: "Unfortunately this is quite a common scam and it is unfortunate that it is so widespread.

"What they are doing is legal as long as they provide the service they offer. However, the way they are presenting it is misleading. They are giving the impression they are an official government agency with the power to impose fines but this is not the case."

Hundreds of concerned licensees called after the story first appeared on the site.

They were the lucky ones but many other publicans who are already struggling to deal with rafts of paperwork and red tape unfortunately sent off their hard-earned cash fearing they would face legal action and large fines from the government if they failed to do so.

If you think you may have to pay £35 to register with the ICO, contact the agency on 01625 545 740.

A scam in practice

The office of Kevin Devanney, the managing director of KDFL Ltd, a company that advises on the congestion charge, is opposite one of the scam companies in the Waterside Business Centre, Isleworth, South West London. His troubles started around mid-June.

The Data Protection Registration Services' office is empty save for two phones mounted on the wall at the back and piles of postbags. These, according to Kevin, are picked up each week and fill up again just as quickly.

He said: "It had sent out pre-printed envelopes with my unit number on it, so I started getting its post and then phone calls from people thinking I was behind the scam. The envelopes were addressed to Data Protection Registration Services and so when people called directory enquiries, they found it didn't exist - and that's how they got through to me.

"I was very angry about it at the time as it reflected really badly on me and my company. I was getting abusive calls from all sorts, builders, and surveyors - all challenging me on what they saw as a con.

"So when the people came to pick up their post I challenged them. They were very apologetic and nice about it and said they would get the envelopes reprinted.

"I also spoke to the Post Office and the Consumer Association who said they would take the matter to the police. They were both very helpful and now the packages go to the correct address.

"The data protection people still come here around once a week, pick up the mailbags and leave. And every week the postbags pile up again.

"When I spoke to them, they sounded like they were from Liverpool and they were driving a van that had been hired out of Liverpool. I think they operate from there, drive round these rented vans and pick up the mail each week from the offices they have all over the country."

Pictured: One scam is run from this office in Isleworth, South West London.

The OFT is considering complaints about the following companies:

  • Data Protection Enforcement Agency (Data Protection Registration Service), Mulain Centre, Union St, Chester CH1 1QP
  • Data Protection Agency Registration Services Ltd, Unit 5, Omega House, Capital Business Park, Kirkby Bank Rd, Kirkby, Liverpool L33 7SY
  • Data Protection Agency Registration Services, Omega House, Lloyds Buildings, 126-128 Stanford St Central, Ashton-under-Lyne OL6 6AG
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Padgate House, 19a Princess Ave, Padgate, Warrington WA1 3TS
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Hyde House, 193 Market Street, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 1HF
  • Crown Data Collection Enforcement, Hyde House, 193 Market Street, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 1HF
  • The Department of Company Registration, 140 Ashley Crescent, London SW11 5QZ
  • Data Protection Bureau, PO Box 10899, Birmingham B29 6ZR
  • Data Protection Registration Agency, Rugby House, 23 Rugby Drive, Aintree, Liverpool L10 8JU
  • Data Protection Registration Agency, Hyde House, 6 Plain Pitt St, Hyde, Cheshire SK14 4QL
  • Data Protection Agency Services, 4 Haslow Place, Blackpool FY3 7PE
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Harrington House, 90 Harrington Rd, South Norwood, London SE25 4LY
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Fleetwood House, Fleetwood Pier, Fleetwood, Lancashire FY7 7BH
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Summerseat House, 39 Summerseat, Liverpool L3 6HB
  • Data Protection Corporation, PO BOX 56, Guisborough, Cleveland TS14 6WT
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Atlantic House, 1st Floor, 56 Ramsbottom Street, Crewe CW1 3AN
  • Data Protection Enforcement Agency, Hilton House, 71-73 Chapel Street, Manchester M3 5BZ
  • Data Protection Agency Services, 64 Brownley Road, Smallthorne, Stoke-On-Trent ST6 1PY
  • Data Protection Agency Services, Sherbourne House, 80 Sherbourne Road, Blackpool FY1 2PQ
  • Data Registration (Renewals), Hilton House, 71-73 Chapel Street, Manchester M3 5BZ
  • DPAS (Renewals), 30 Myers Road West, Crosby L23 0RU

Other scams to look out for:

The data protection scam is not the only one that licensees face. Among others are:

  • People telephone the pub implying they are from one of the emergency services putting together a booklet on a related topic such as crime prevention. They want the pub to take out an advert in the booklet and send an invoice even if the licensee has refused to get involved.
  • A conman enters a pub while the licensee is away and persuades staff to give him money out of the till for some goods the licensee has agreed to buy.
  • Licensees pay to get a listing in a pub guide that is never published.
  • A conman calls and manages to convince the licensee that they know each other. He says he needs money to put a deposit down on two vans and is short of some of the cash. He persuades the licensee to put the money into a taxi to a designated address.

Related articles:

Data protection scam returns (19 June 2003)

Rogue agency continues data con (16 May 2003)

OFT tackles data scams (8 May 2003)

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