The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has today (27 June) searched two addresses in Liverpool, as part of an ongoing investigation into the acquisition and sale of illegally obtained personal data.

Following a six month investigation, working in partnership with the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), two teams of ICO enforcement officers executed search warrants at a business and a residential address to seize computer equipment and documents which will be analysed for evidence.

The business is suspected of carrying out high volumes of data farming activity, known as blagging or vishing, to illegally obtain the personal data of motor accident victims to sell on to solicitors for personal injury claims. The business is alleged to have been carrying out this illegal activity since November 2017.

Mike Shaw, ICO Group Manager - Enforcement, said:

”Today’s searches will fire a warning shot to businesses who operate outside the law by engaging in data farming. The evidence seized will help us identify any illegal business activities and assist us to take enforcement action.”

Vishing is the act of using the telephone in an attempt to obtain private, personal and financial information within what seems like a normal conversation. Often callers pose as policy holders, claimants or other companies in a position of trust.

Vishing calls to the insurance industry are frequently made by marketing firms or claims management companies in order to obtain information from insurers to enable referrals to law firms for personal injury claims to be initiated.

The alleged offences are contrary to s.170 Data Protection Act 2018 and previously under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR).
  3. Under past and current law, the ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  4. Since 25 May 2018, the ICO has the power to impose a civil monetary penalty (CMP) on a data controller of up to £17million (20m Euro) or 4% of global turnover.
  5. The GDPR and the DPA2018 gave the ICO new strengthened powers, some of which, such as assessment notices can be used for this investigation.
  6. The data protection principles in the GDPR evolved from the original DPA, and set out the main responsibilities for organisations. Article 5 of the GDPR requires that personal data shall be:
    • Processed lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals;
    • Collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;
    • Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed;
    • Accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date;
    • Kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary; 
    • Processed using appropriate technical or organisational measures in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data; and
    • Article 5(2) requires that “the controller shall be responsible for, and be able to demonstrate, compliance with the principles”.
  7. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) under past and current law are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  8. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by ICO.
  9. To report a concern to the ICO go to ico.org.uk/concerns.