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Letting agent unlawfully accessed tenants benefit details

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The Information Commissioner’s Office

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News release  27 February 2012

A letting agent who unlawfully tried to obtain details about a tenant’s finances from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been found guilty of an attempt to commit an offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act and the Criminal Attempts Act.

Pinchas Braun, of Tottenham, was fined £200 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £728.60 prosecution costs by Highbury Magistrates today.

The offence was uncovered in June 2011 when the DWP received a call from an individual who they believed was fraudulently trying to access the account of a benefit claimant. The DWP investigated before reporting the matter to the ICO.

The ICO’s investigating officers identified the caller as Pinchas Braun. Further enquiries found that Braun worked for a property management and rental business called Manor West Estates and that he was responsible for rent collection. The DWP account that Mr Braun had targeted belonged to one of his employer’s tenants.

Braun had no authority to access the tenants’ information held by the DWP. It was only his inability to give the tenant’s middle name that raised the DWP representative’s suspicions and the call was ended before any personal data was disclosed.

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“The Department for Work and Pensions hold important information about each and every one of us. We are very pleased that a DWP staff member was alert to this attempt to blag information and that the call was halted before it was too late.

“The motive behind Mr Braun’s action was financial. He knew that such an underhand method of obtaining the tenant’s personal information was illegal but carried on regardless.

“This case shows that unscrupulous individuals will continue to try and blag peoples’ details until a more appropriate range of deterrent punishments is available to the courts. There must be no further delay in introducing tougher powers to enforce the Data Protection Act beyond the current ‘fine only’ regime,” Mr Graham said.

“The contrast is striking in the penalties available for blagging under the Fraud Act on the one hand and under the Data Protection Act on the other. On the same day, prison sentences were handed down in one court with chicken feed fines being imposed in another – all for the same activity”

Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The offence is punishable by way of a financial penalty of up to £5,000 in a Magistrates Court or an unlimited fine in a Crown Court. This also applies to attempts under the Criminal Attempts Act. The ICO continues to call for more effective deterrent sentences, including the threat of prison, to be available to the courts to stop the unlawful use of personal information.

Earlier today an investigation lead by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) resulted in four individuals receiving custodial sentences under the Fraud Act after they blagged personal and confidential information which was later sold to their clients.

Further information on this story is available at:

http://www.soca.gov.uk/news/404-private-eyes-guilty-of-stealing-confidential-data-for-profit

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070 or visit the website at: www.ico.gov.uk.


About the Author

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. We do this by promoting good practice, ruling on complaints, providing information to individuals and organisations and taking appropriate action when the law is broken.

The ICO enforces and oversees the following legislation:

  •  Data Protection Act 1998
  •  Freedom of Information Act 2000
  •  Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003
  •  Environmental Information Regulations 2004



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2012-02-28 23:31:47 in Legal Articles

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