Tuesday 12 December 2017

Private investigator flees to UK with credit union data

Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney. Pic: Courts Collins
Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney. Pic: Courts Collins
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A rogue private investigator suspected of using illegal tactics to obtain personal data belonging to hundreds of credit union customers has fled the country, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The Scottish-based agent was facing a possible prosecution after he allegedly used false identities to elicit private information from the Department of Social Protection.

It's believed the businessman provided the stolen data, which included home addresses, to a number of the country's credit unions in return for lucrative fees.

The credit unions in question hired the services of the individual as part of their efforts to chase down customers in arrears.

But department officials who passed on the information claimed that they were "duped" by the private investigator, who is believed to have been operating in Ireland since the early 2000s.

The private investigator was the subject of a lengthy investigation led by Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney.

But as the net was closing in, the individual terminated his contracts with credit unions and is believed to have fled the jurisdiction and returned to the UK. He had been using a Dublin-based address and had a significant number of credit unions on his books, the authorities believe.

The fact that the investigator has left Ireland in the possession of reams of stolen data will spark concern. Mr Delaney is understood to have sent a dossier detailing the activities of the private investigator to his counterparts in the UK.

But because the individual is now outside of the jurisdiction, Mr Delaney does not have the power to take a prosecution on behalf of the State.

Details of the case have emerged just 12 months after an Irish Independent investigation revealed the ease with which private investigators have been deceiving State officials. In excess of 100 credit unions were enlisting the services of rogue agents who often used "blagging techniques" to obtain people's data.

There was a major tightening of controls by the department after it was revealed that two female private investigators posed as State officials from another agency in order to obtain addresses and PPS numbers.

In a statement, the Department of Social Protection said it treated data protection breaches with the "utmost seriousness".

While it declined to comment on the latest breach involving the Scottish-based agent, the Department said it had co-operated fully with inquires led by the Data Protection Commissioner.

"Every effort is made to ensure that personal customer data is used solely for business purposes and that it is not compromised in any way. The department assists the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in all cases of suspected data breaches under investigation and puts substantial resources in place to deal with these," a spokeswoman said.

She added that "the department has data protection and information security policies, standards, procedures and guidelines in place" and that these are constantly brought up to date.

Irish Independent

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