back to article Gumshoes fined for debt collection pretexting blag

Two private investigators have been slapped with fines for unlawfully obtaining and selling personal information by a court in south London today. Christopher Hackett, trading as Swift Investigations, and Darren Whalley of Managed Credit Services Ltd were prosecuted by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) at Wimbledon …


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  1. Dave Harris

    £900 quid?

    For landing a bunch of thugs on someone's doorstep when she's probably got nothing to do with the debt (even if she knew about it)?

    Sod that - surely the woman can go after them herself for harassment, stalking, potentially assault.

    20+% of their turnover may have been more appropriate, but under a grand is really a kick in the teeth for the person whose details have been finagled out of BT. If that's a fine limited by the ICO's powers/remit, then those powers or that remit really need to be revisited. How the hell is the ICO supposed to combat major data thepht with fines like that.

    Not only that, what happens when some abusive ex uses one of these cowboys to track down someone who fled from him. Then we're talking about lives being at stake.

    Incandescently angry about this one.

  2. Anonymous John

    It's not known how much Hackett and Whalley were paid for their service

    a lot more than the fines, no doubt.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    The fines are TOO SMALL

    Chances are that even after paying the fine, they've made a profit.

    At least another zero, and preferably two, needs to go on the end.

  4. Tony W

    That's OK then

    Derisory fine - clearly gives the message that this sort of behaviour is not taken seriously.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ICO = Lame ducks

    It just shows how much of a Lame Duck the ICO really is. The fine is pathetic!

    No wonder serious infringements of our Privacy and Data are ignored by the ICO. Check out the issue of Phorm's illegal wire tap using Webwise. (Do independent research and not be taken in by Phorm's spin)

    The ICO should be put to bed and replaced with an independent organisation that has teeth!

  6. Chad H.
    Thumb Down

    Thats not even a slap on the wrist!

    A tap on the finger maybe?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    @ ICO = Lame ducks

    In fairness to ICO, the fine was set by the magistrate, who must be rushed off his or her feet: the article quite clearly says " Wimbledon Magistrate's Court...".

    One magistrate for that whole area is ridiculous under-staffing, especially as it is near(ish) Croydon, where the police have been reduced to dispensing summary justice to the area's pooches as the judiciary obviously can't cope.

    Don't bother I'll get it myself, I was just leaving. Yup, the one with the Sam Spade hat stuffed into the pocket.

    Which reminds me. This guy came up to me and said, "Have you got a light Mac?", and I said, "No, but I've got a dark brown overcoat."

  8. Dom

    I have met

    someone like this. He admitted that they ALL [investigators] do it, and have many contacts across ALL of the utility companies. From what he said, the best and most forthcoming where British Gas and the local Councils.

    I see this case as the tip of a very large iceberg and is, no doubt, just a good example of the powers [NuLabour] that be paying lip service to ever eroding civil liberties and rights to privacy.

  9. David Jones
    Black Helicopters


    Why aren't BT being fined and ordered to rout out this sort of behaviour amongst their employees?

    BT was custodian of these individual's data and it was BT who failed by allowing said data to fall into the wrong hands. This is just another example of BT's lack of respect for their customers personal information.

  10. Andy Livingstone

    What about BT?

    They actually provided the essential information.

    When are they due in Court?

  11. Jorge Salgado-Reyes

    I am a Private Investigator

    No We don't all do it. Most of us play by the rules.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    This is another reason why...

    ... My front door is 6.8 inches thick.

  13. Ross

    Fine amounts vs Payment for services

    [It's not known how much Hackett and Whalley were paid for their service]

    A few ppl claiming that the two gumshoes got paid more than £900 a piece on the basis of.... Well I dunno. We used a company a few years back to trace people that owed money. They charged a 2 figure sum per successful search. Either Blackhorse FS are paying *way* over the market rate, or anyone thinking that the gumshoes made a profit out of this are (thankfully) mistaken. It's also unlikely that they will find it easy to get any more work in this line of business too which is a good thing.

    Remember that it's a good thing that debtors can be legitimately tracked - it saves you having to pay their gas/electric/credit card/mortgage bills etc. Whatever companies lose in unpaid debt they pass onto their paying customers in the form of increased charges. Why should you and I pay their bills?

    I see nobody seems to have mentioned BTs part in this - it was after all their lack of controls that led to the data being leaked. You will always have people trying to obtain information by deception, whether that be gumshoes, ID thieves or sociopathic ex-boyfriends. Cutting off the supply of information at the source is what we should be focusing on, not what some blokes did with it once they had it (although that can of course be a salutary tale that inclines people to stop giving information out willy nilly)

    BT need a right b*ll*ck*ng for their part in this. They were the people that actually gave the address out.

  14. poorboy
    Thumb Up

    Hooray for successful debt collectors!

    Why does everyone stick up for the debtors? Anyone who runs a small business knows just how many can-pay-won't-pay scumbags are out there, hiding behind "data protection" laws. To someone like me, who has lost tens of thousands of pounds to rich absconders, any debt collector who successfully tracks people down sounds very attractive. How can I get in touch with them ?

  15. Gordon Pryra


    Your a fool. No one is sticking up dor the debters, read the actual article.

    They went after somone who WASNT the debter. They deserve a lot more than a bigger fine. BOTH Bt and the scum collectors.

    Ignoring that, why is anyone suprised that BT are giving out private information to 3rd partys? My only suprise is that BT didnt charge for the information

  16. anarchic-teapot


    As someone who has also lost a lot of money to arseholes perfectly capable of paying, but who got rich out of ruining other businesses, I'd prefer the debt collectors to arrive on *their* doorstep, not somebody else's.

    2*wrong <> right etc.etc.

  17. John Savard


    If someone owes money that he refuses to pay, surely one would just pick up the phone, inform the police, and they would use whatever means are necessary to find them.

    Of course it's a serious matter to access confidential information wrongly, because for all anyone at British Telecom might have known, her former partner might have been looking for her to murder her.

    But debts should be collected, and so nothing should be done that would make it easier for people to evade them.

  18. .

    @John Savard

    Why would the police get involved in a contractual dispute? They've got enough to do dealing with criminals.

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Oh, dear - where have you been living? Firstly, non-payment is civil & therefore the police will be less than slightly interested. Secondly, even when there is a criminal offence (your car is stolen, for example), the police will just give you a crime number so that you can claim on your insurance.

    On the other hand, children playing in the street with toy guns or swords will elicit a full armed response & prosecutions for having dangerous weapons. See how it works now?

  20. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Puzzled will stay puzzled...

    "If someone owes money that he refuses to pay, surely one would just pick up the phone, inform the police, and they would use whatever means are necessary to find them."


    if he doesn't realise that owing money on a contract is a CIVIL offence, because the police are completely uninterested in this. They will just put the phone down and laugh if you ask them to get your money for you....

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Put them in jail for 5 or 10 years.

    Saying that it's 'very serious' and they 'take it very seriously' does f*** all if they just end up with a slap on the wrist. They should at least be honest and say, ''we think this crime is a bit of a bummer if you're the one affected, but on the whole we don't care. We have bigger issues to deal with, such as telling the general public what kind of porn is OK to watch, making certain kinds of sketches and computer generated images illegal, and our current major problem is trying to figure out how to ban plastic bags (even though we can just make biodegradable ones mandatory).''

    Private investigators working illegally can land the victim in a LOT of serious trouble. It should not be that easy to track people down and they should be looking into exactly how the investigator (any P.Is) managed to get this infomation illegally in the first place, and fine the hell out of them, possibly jailing them too.

    You would be surprised the amount of information that will be given out without much trickery or effort on the investigator's behalf.

    The fines for serious crimes should be at least £2000. I suggest around £10,000.

    The person being fined should have it be a BURDEN. A punishment, something that they need to work for, that will be on their mind every day and seriously affect their lives - not something that they can pay with a month's wages or pocket money!!

    What the hell is the point in lousy fines? It's even worse than doing nothing.

    A lousy fine for the sake of looking like they took some sort of action is nothing but a slap in the face and a mockery of the law and peoples right to privacy.

  22. Tim99 Silver badge

    @AC @ ICO = Lame ducks

    [This guy came up to me and said, "Have you got a light Mac?"]

    Reply - "No, this is the previous model PowerBook with a 17-inch screen."

    or, "No. This is a ThinkPad X300 - I use Kubuntu, would you like to see it?"

    or, "No. This is an Asus Eee - I find it works well on the beach."

    Mine's the big check jacket with the music-hall stage makeup in the pocket.

  23. Graham Bartlett

    @John Savard

    "surely one would just pick up the phone, inform the police"

    Nope. If someone's committed a criminal act, you can get the police involved. But failure to pay a debt is a civil matter. That means you need to sue them (or in the UK, go through the small claims court) to get the money off them, and the court will decide how much you actually get. Only if they fail to pay that does it become a criminal act.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Private detectives

    I had someone traced a few months ago, it costed me £75. Maximum I was quoted would have been £125.

  25. John Savard

    Why the Police?

    Because there's no way to tell if a private investigator is working for a legitimate company owed money, or for an ex-husband wanting to murder his wife.

    Because private citizens don't have the power to access confidential files, to compel people to disclose evidence, and so on.

    People who are victims of torts ought to have recourse, and the police are the logical ones to execute that function. Of ocurse it is more work, so more policemen would be hired. Every attempt would be made to recover the costs from convicted criminals, and people engaging in wilful debt evasion (which can certainly be criminalized) rather than taxpayers

  26. Law
    Black Helicopters

    RE: Thats not even a slap on the wrist!

    Nah, it's more of a pat on the bum, followed by a wink!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Problem is with the initial request

    "to track down a woman whose partner owed money"

    So, they are tracking down the wrong person in the first place. Would anyone be complaining if some low life owing millions had been found and bailiffed?

    Whoever told the PIs to go for the person's partner?

    Surely the idiot PIs could have just used surveillance to wait for the partner to turn up, then followed him home. Nobody needs to know how you got your man, you just did.

    Funny : My Google Ad's at the bottom of the page are showing up lots of "Harassed by Creditors" type adverts. It just shows how much of a waste of money this sort of targetted advertising is! Maybe they should analyse the comments and put "frustration management" links instead.

  28. Glenn Charles
    Jobs Horns

    violation of personal liberties

    Gad, that would be fairly common-place in the US of A; I doubt there's a magistrate over here that could be convinced to do anything but laugh. A lawyer would take your money, though. At least they're democratic about that.


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