Two rogue private investigators, who were hired by Allianz and other firms between 2009 and 2010, have been found guilty of conspiring to breach the Data Protection Act.
Barry Spencer, 41, and Adrian Stanton, 40, ran ICU Investigations in Feltham, Middlesex, a firm which tricked organisations into revealing customers' private details, which were then passed onto other firms for the purposes of debt recovery.
The pair were convicted at Isleworth Crown Court of conspiring to unlawfully obtain personal data. Five employees of the company had previously pleaded guilty to the same offence: Robert Sparling (38), Joel Jones (43), Michael Sparling (41), Neil Sturton (43) and Lee Humphreys (41).
An investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office estimated the pair carried out around 2000 separate offences between 1 April 2009 and 12 May 2010.
The ICO found no evidence of criminality by any organisation that employed ICU Investigations, which according to court evidence also includes Brighton and Hove Council, Leeds Building Society and Dee Valley Water.
The ICO said the information requested from clients such as Allianz could typically have been obtained legitimately, and there was no evidence clients were aware the data had been obtained by illegal means.
"These men knew they were breaking the law, but did so anyway, presumably confident they would not be caught. That faith was misplaced, and they and their employees will now face the consequences of their actions."
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 ‘fine only' - up to £5000 in a magistrates court or an unlimited fine in a crown court.
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.
Allianz was unavailable to comment at the time of publication.
In September Allianz had sought to distance itself from the so-called blue-chip hacking scandal after The Times named the insurer as one of the organisations on the list of firms who used rogue private investigators.
At the time, the insurer said: "We would only consider using investigators if we had strong suspicions that a claim was fraudulent or that the evidence did not support a claim as presented. We condemn unequivocally, any attempt to obtain information unlawfully."
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