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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Security Loophole Access to Credit Files

Access to personal credit reports is strictly controlled with legal requirements limiting who can search files. To be authorised to search someone else’s credit file requires the searcher to be registered under the Data Protection Act.

Having access to an online credit checking service is a standard part of the vetting procedure for many companies that deal with consumers. Companies with a licence to search consumers include high street mobile phone companies and letting agents, and stores and supermarkets that offer account and credit facilities.

Credit agencies that provide access to credit checks will screen each organisation that applies to open an account, and will ask the organisation to provide their Data Protection Number. Without a DPN, the application to run credit checks will be denied.

However First Report has seen an increase in fraudulent attempts to get around this. All organisations which are registered under the Data Protection Act can be searched online on the Data Protection Public Register, a public website which is designed to enable anyone to quickly verify the licence details of any registered organisation.

Entering just a single name or word is sufficient to return all organisations that have a similar name on the register. Each entry includes the Data Protection Registration Number, the type of licence held, and name and address details for the holder.

The availability of this data means that criminals can search the public register and record all the details shown. In the cases recorded by First Report, the applicant has registered a domain name that looks appropriate for a division or branch of the company, and then set up an email address at that domain. The scammers then apply to access credit files using all the legitimate information and the Data Protection Registration Number, and their own email address and phone number.

Criminals who attempt to access consumer credit files are commonly hoping to harvest personal information which can then be used for identity theft and fraud.

At First Report we have a detailed due diligence process and we have successfully stopped a number of attempts to gain access to personal credit data using this scam. We have reported this to the Office of the Information Commissioner.