Who sold our data?

  • Parkers staff details passed to personal injury lawyers
  • Attempts to trace back where detail exchange started
  • More powers needed to know where personal details go

On October 31 2010 a Parkers member of staff had an accident involving an ambulance. No one was injured and the damage was minimal.

He reported the accident to the insurance company giving details of his business email address, then reported the accident to Marylebone Police Station giving his personal email address only.

Within weeks he started to receive countless spam from personal injury lawyers touting for business through his personal email address.

It is illegal for police forces to pass on personal details of an accident victim to another party in exchange for cash. In a bid to trace the email trail back we asked one of the personal injury law firms where they obtained the information from under the Data Protection Act. The firm, National Injury Lawyers, said that the details had been passed on to them on New Year's Eve 2010 by a company called Bedford Insurance - exactly two months after the incident. When we contacted Bedford Insurance, they claimed they had no knowledge of the Parkers employee's email details and could not confirm where the information had come from.

Clearly, it's easy to put 2+2 together and make 5, but what is clear is that the Data Protection Act has failed somewhere. Trying to find out where your details have come from is a labyrinthian task.

Andrew Wigmore, from the Claims Council which works on behalf of claims management companies, said he was also aware that personal information about accident victims has been passed on by civil servants including police and health professionals. Ironic, since this is an industry that thrives because of the so-called 'referral' system.

Parkers is not so naïve to think that the referrals system is the sole cause of rocketing insurance premiums: insurance fraud involving crash-for-cash scammers, rising costs in parts and repair labour costs, more expensive car technology are all factors that have conspired to push premiums up by 40% over the past year. However, there is no doubting that the 'feeding frenzy' as described by one insurer is not merely hyperbole. All agencies involved realise that there's plenty of money to be made and that the costs will eventually be met by the insurers, which will in turn be passed on to the consumer.

Insurance companies make a lot of money and it's a fair argument that the referrals system has become a scapegoat for a much bigger problem. Wigmore believes that market forces will eventually come into play and that will force an alternative business model where personal injury lawyers, large insurance companies and claims management companies will fall under one roof and that the result will put the brakes on out-of-control premiums.

Still, Parkers believes that the referrals system points to a 'jobs for the boys' network that is anti-competitive and should be banned. We also believe there should be a more robust system in place to prevent police officers, health professionals and even trade union officials passing on details of accident victims.

In the case involving our staff member we have no evidence to suggest that our details were passed on illegally but what we do know is that they were passed on freely, without restraint and that someone, somewhere was making a lot of money out of them. The system means that it's nigh on impossible to trace the original source of the trail, and that means the Data Protection Act is impotent. We propose greater transparency, a new system where people can easily find out where their details are going and greater powers for those who do not want their personal information circulated at will.