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Credit Unions 'hired agents for debts probe'

CREDIT Unions have allegedly hired private investigators who elicited private data from a number of state bodies.

The investigators - or 'tracking agents' - try to obtain confidential details of customers who are in debt to the credit union.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is now investigating the issue.

The information, which includes addresses and social welfare details, is then provided to credit unions in return for lucrative fees.

But department officials who handed out the personal information insist that they were "duped" by the private investigators.

It is expected that prosecutions will follow, which could result in hefty fines for the private detective firms in question.

The names of 468 credit union customers have been cross-checked by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner with the Department of Social Protection in recent months, amid fears their personal information was breached.

Following a lengthy internal probe in the department, it was confirmed that personal data belonging to 78 customers was provided to private investigators who gave false identities.

At least 12 credit unions are suspected of using stolen data and are at the centre of the Data Protection Commissioner's probe.

They include Progressive Credit Union, Balbriggan, City Bus employees Credit Union, Dublin, St Declan's Credit Union, Ashbourn, Portlaoise Credit Union and Monasterevan Credit Union.

Services

A further four credit unions in Limerick and Tullamore Credit Union have also allegedly used the services of the private investigators.

The credit unions themselves were unaware of the shady tactics employed by these private detectives, according to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU).

A spokesperson for the ILCU said: "Credit Unions do not in anyway condone the use of securing information by illicit means. We condemn such practices and we will work with the Data Protection Commissioners and any other agency to ensure these issues are highlighted and that the unscrupulous tactics being used by private detectives are exposed."

"If a credit union uses an external agency or investigator to seek assistance in locating or contacting a member, it is very much after all other attempts to establish contact with the member have been exhausted," the spokesperson said.

"If any such external agency is using illegal measures to establish contact details for members, this is a serious matter which the Irish League of Credit Unions, and its affiliated credit unions, would certainly not condone."

hnews@herald.ie


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