Traders warned over scam letter

THE owner of a north Suffolk wine shop has urged businessmen and women in the area to be on their guard for letters aimed at misleading traders into handing over cash.

THE owner of a north Suffolk wine shop has urged businessmen and women in the area to be on their guard for letters aimed at misleading traders into handing over cash.

Alex Carr, owner of the Market Place Wine Shop in Halesworth, was alarmed when he opened a letter informing him that he had failed to register his business under the Data Protection Act of 1988.

The letter, from the Data Protection Agency Services Enforcement Section, went on to say it was a "criminal offence" not to register and demanded immediate payment of £95.

"It was quite frightening getting such a demand but I have made enquiries and now realise it is not from the genuine Data Protection office.


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"The forms and the demand I received looked official and I just hope that other businesses in the area do not pay out to these people," said Mr Carr.

The letter urges the owner of the business to send the completed forms and a "fee" of £95 to an address in Sheffield.

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As well as a demand for the £95 fee the letter contains an official-looking form asking for various details about the business and an addressed envelope.

The envelope sent to businesses has the word "urgent" stamped on the front.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Trading Standards said this was a national problem where businesses have been receiving such demands from company's claiming to represent the Data Protection Agency.

"Our advice to anyone receiving such a demand is to bin the letter.

"Anyone wanting further assistance can always contact Suffolk Trading Standards for advice," she said.

There have been so many complaints from worried businesses across the country that the Information Commissioner for Data Protection, Richard Thomas, has taken action.

On a website Mr Thomas lists 25 companies claiming to represent Data Protection including the company in Sheffield that sent the letter to Mr Carr.

A spokesman for Mr Thomas said: "The commissioner is keen to make clear that there is no connection between this office and these businesses.

"He has been disturbed that a number of people have been confused and troubled by the wording and tone of some of the correspondence issued by these businesses."

Mr Thomas is also advising anyone receiving such a letter not to make any payment.

"His office is co-operating with other relevant authorities who are exploring what action might be taken," said the spokesman.

Data Protection is a complex issue and there is a considerable amount of law involved in ensuring that companies handle personal and company data correctly.

However, other than paying the annual statutory notification fee of £35, on which no VAT is payable, there is no other charge made to any data controller wishing to notify.

· Warnings about this type of scam and a list of the companies claiming to collect on behalf of the Data Protection Agency can be found on the agency's official website at www.dpr.gov.uk/donotbemisled.html

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david.lennard@eadt.co.uk

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