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PI claims company manager prosecuted for ‘blagging’ customer details to sell to law firms

Damaged cars: action over repair data

A former claims company manager has been fined for leading a team involved in ‘blagging’ calls to illegally obtain personal data from insurance companies that they could sell on to personal injury law firms.

Joseph Walker appeared at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court and pleaded guilty to 12 offences of unlawfully obtaining personal data under section 55 of the Data Protection Act.

A further 44 similar matters were taken into consideration.

Walker, 30 – who is originally from Liverpool but now lives in Australia – was arrested on a warrant during a visit back to the UK. He was fined £2,000 and was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £1,600 and a victim surcharge of £15.

The case concerned what are known as blagging calls, which were made to insurance companies to illegally obtain information about policy holders and road traffic accidents they had been involved in.

At the time of the offences, Walker worked as a manager at a claims management company, UK Claims Organisation Ltd, based in Liverpool. It has since had its authorisation cancelled by the Claims Management Regulator.

Data originally obtained unlawfully from a car hire company was used by the employees of UK Claims Organisation as leads to make calls to insurance companies.

Staff used various guises, including claiming to be calling from solicitors’ firms, to obtain further information from the insurers, in order to be able to sell cases on to solicitors as personal injury claims.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “Blagging calls are one of the many disreputable and dishonest tactics we see being used by rogue firms. People’s personal data has real monetary value and this practice shows the lengths some people and organisations will go to in order to get hold of it.

“We are happy the court has recognised the seriousness of the offence by imposing a fine.”

Walker’s co-defendants, former UK Claims Organisation Ltd employees Lesley Severs and Kayleigh Billington, were fined £250 and £320 respectively last year for their involvement, acting on the instruction of their manager.

Meanwhile, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has carried out yet more raids as part of an extensive ongoing investigation into personal injury nuisance calls that have been linked to the theft of data from car repair centres.

The ICO last week executed two search warrants this week – one in Gatley, Greater Manchester, and the other in Wilmslow, Cheshire – in which computers and phones were seized.

The ongoing investigation, named Operation Pelham, started in May 2016 and has so far involved raids on a business and two homes last December and more homes in April, all in the north-west.

The ICO is working with the National Body Repair Association on the investigation.

Mike Shaw, ICO criminal investigations group manager, said: “This illegal trade has multiple negative effects – both on the car repair businesses targeted for their customer data and the subsequent nuisance calls made to customers. These can be extremely unsettling and distressing.

“Our searches this week are the latest step in us tracking down the unscrupulous individuals involved in this industry. These people won’t get away with it.”

ICO investigators are looking at how the data was stolen, who stole it and which companies have subsequently made calls to the public encouraging them to make compensation claims about to accidents they may have been involved in.

There is another, separate, ongoing ICO investigation also related to the illegal acquisition of data from the automotive repair industry. This has involved a search in north London in February prompted by concerns raised by Nationwide Accident Repairs Services (NARS).

NARS told ICO investigators that a computer system it uses had been unlawfully accessed to view car repair estimates which contained personal data.