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Four private investigators have pleaded guilty to stealing confidential information and selling it to paying clients. Philip Campbell Smith, Adam Spears and Graham Freeman used the services of Daniel Summers, a practitioner in the technique known as blagging, to acquire personal and financial information on behalf of corporate clients and private individuals.
Searches during the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) investigation found quotes for Summers’ services including £200 for obtaining a monthly bank statement. On his arrest Summers said “I know why you are here, this is massive,” and “I’m in the biggest s**t imaginable.”
Blagging is the art of bypassing security measures through skilled persuasion and impersonating someone else. Summers targeted banks, financial institutions, mortgage providers, government agencies and law enforcement databases. Evidence showed the men warning each other from time to time when their activity risked being noticed.
SOCA’s investigation into the four men began when it received intelligence that Summers’ computer may have had information about criminal activity stored on it. When Summers put his computer up for sale, an undercover SOCA officer succeeded in buying it from him for £590 cash. Despite Summers’ attempts to erase the hard drive, SOCA’s forensic analysts were able to retrieve a number of files showing Smith, Spears and Freeman tasking Summers to obtain confidential information in exchange for payment. Investigators collected further documentary and computer evidence from the other three men when they were arrested in May 2009.
SOCA’s focus during the investigation was criminal conspiracy. However in recognition of the fact that the operation might also uncover information relevant to other authorities, SOCA worked with a number of bodies including the Information Commissioner’s Office. SOCA will now hand over any such information to its partners to determine whether further action is appropriate.
Christopher Graham, UK Information Commissioner, said after the court case: “The scourge of data theft continues to threaten the privacy rights of the UK population. Whilst we welcome today’s sentencing of the private investigator, Graham Freeman, and his three accomplices, the outcome of the case underlines the need for a comprehensive approach to deterring information theft. If SOCA had been restricted to pursuing this case solely using their powers under the Data Protection Act then these individuals would have been faced with a small fine and would have been able to continue their activities the very next day. This is not good enough. Unscrupulous individuals will continue to try and obtain peoples’ information through deception until there are strong punishments to fit the crime. We must not delay in getting a custodial sentence in place for section 55 offences under the Data Protection Act.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) added that it worked with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to secure the convictions under the Fraud Act. The ICO advised SOCA on the data protection issues connected to the case and will now be provided with additional material from the SOCA for further investigation. The ICO does not rule out taking further action against the organisations that received this information, if it becomes clear that they failed to comply with the requirements of the Data Protection Act.