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Protect yourselves

01 September, 2003
Page 20 
The Data Protection Act has been in force for a few years now – long enough for the crooks to get their brains around the various opportunities for scams.
The most common scams take the form of companies demanding money from retailers for registering them under the Act – and threatening them with sky-high fines if they don’t cough up.Now the government, of course, has had the same amount of time to clamp down on these cowboys. But either the methods for policing the problem are not up to scratch or they have left it a little late.The number of ‘companies’ that now exist in this market has proliferated to such a degree that, I promise you, you are spoiled for choice as to whom you get ripped off by.Asif Kassam, who runs KP Service Station in Manchester, got the wind up when he received a very official-looking final notice with threats of a £5,000 fine if he didn’t cough up. “I was shocked,” he says. “It looked so legal.”Meanwhile, Adrian Boorman, who runs Summit Service Station at Stadhampton, Oxfordshire, smelled a rat when he found himself in a similar situation. He rang the Information Commissioner’s office, which informed him that there are in excess of 20 legal actions pending (well, at last!) and pointed him to the home page of its website (www.dpr.gov.uk), which is worth a visit.The bogus companies now number 30, and it is worth noting that they almost all have names starting with the words ‘Data Protection’ and ending in ‘Services’ or ‘Agency’ or ‘Registration’ or a combo of all three, as in Data Protection Services Agency Registration. Most of them want £95 + VAT whereas the real guys only want £35, no VAT. Adrian intends to get as much unwanted publicity for these scams as possible. He is on the national steering group of the Rural Shops Alliance and plans to get it mentioned in the newsletter.“For the little guys, these threats can be quite frightening,” he observes.He is also on the executive committee of the Rural Community Council and a member of the Lakeside Group which exists to share best practices and knowledge. You may get the view that he’s in favour of treating the independent forecourt trader as a protected species. Not a bit of it. In fact he gets my quote of the month award.“Use it or lose it is a pathetic slogan,” he says. “You have to turn yourself into a destination point.”