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Questions Of Cash: Credit data 'libel' action may well be wrong call


Q. I was the victim of a fraudster, who used my personal details obtained from my previous address to open a mobile phone account with T-Mobile in my name. This led to a negative credit reference report and a reduction in my permitted credit limit on my credit card. Do I have grounds for a libel action against Experian, the credit reference agency? CW, London.

A. James Jones of Experian says: "Legally, T-Mobile are the data controllers and we are the data processors, so the phone provider takes primary responsibility for accuracy of the data it shares with other lenders through the credit reference agencies. You can make a claim under the Data Protection Act for damage caused by inaccurate data, but being declined credit is more loss of expectation, not damage. I don't think libel law is relevant here, because credit reports aren't really published. Access to the data is limited to organisations that take part in the data sharing scheme."

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner's Office adds: "The credit reference agency would be likely to say that they depend on the data received from financial institutions and would therefore not be responsible. It's also relevant to note that the credit ratings are a product of the lender's appetite to lending risk and will vary from lender to lender.

"If a person has been a victim of identity fraud they should first take it up with the bank [or other institution], who would verify the claim and modify their records accordingly. The lender [or credit provider] is under an obligation to provide accurate data, so they would then send updated information to the credit reference agency.

"The credit reference agency or Cifas [the UK anti-fraud agency] may place a fraud marker next to the affected person's name to show that they have been a victim of identity theft, but this should not impact on their credit rating. But it would be likely to lead to increased verification checks on the individual if they were to apply for credit."

In summary, it is questionable whether you have grounds for legal action for libel, but given the cost and uncertainty of such action, it is unlikely to be a sensible thing to initiate.

Q. I owed Barclaycard £5,000. I paid £500 off the loan, but I was unable to make further repayments when my employer's daughter died suddenly and my job ended. A debt-collecting agency contacted me on behalf of Barclaycard and I arranged new repayment terms with them. I then paid off the loan in full, but I never received acknowledgement that the debt was cleared. I phoned the agency seven times seeking confirmation in writing, but this never arrived. They said they didn't understand why I wanted the letter. I am worried that the debt is not showing as cleared. GG, Derry.

A Your concern is well founded. The collecting agency did not properly record the debt as cleared, with the result that collection of the "debt" was transferred to another agency. As a result of our intervention the records of Barclaycard and the two debt collection agencies have been corrected to show that the debt has been fully cleared.

Q. On 16 March last year, I accepted an online quote from MCE Insurance for cover for my motorcycle. I paid immediately and the cover was to begin on 1 April. I sent the policy certificate to the road tax office for a tax disc, which I received a few days later. Nearly six months afterwards, I received a bank statement showing a credit from MCE. I phoned MCE to find out why and was told the policy had been cancelled because of a postcode error and a refund had been made to my account, less £32. My bike had not been insured for the previous 23 weeks! Why wasn't I told? CC, Belfast.

A. We have been unable to obtain a satisfactory explanation from MCE Insurance. A spokeswoman said: "The charge on the policy has been removed and a full refund given. Due to the Data Protection Act, in order to discuss the client's policy information in further detail with The Independent we require the client's signed consent to do so." You provided authorisation to MCE, but despite this and our follow-up requests, no explanation has been provided. MCE said that you also lodged a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service, which we hope will take tough action.

Q. You helped me at the end of last year with eBay, which suspended my trading account. After you contacted them, I understood my account had been reopened. However, I again can't use it. JW, Staffordshire.

A PayPal, the eBay subsidiary that runs its payment system, says: "PayPal conducted a review on [the reader's] account due to a number of buyer complaints received. PayPal asked [the reader] to provide receipts and/or invoices for the items she had sold. Unfortunately, [the reader] provided invoices that did not match any of the items she had sold through her PayPal account. PayPal therefore could not validate the items sold and had to suspend her account until the necessary information was provided. [The reader] subsequently set up a second PayPal account, and was again asked to provide receipts or invoices for the sales of items through it.

However, [the reader] submitted an invoice that was unrelated to the items she was selling. As a result, PayPal had to suspend her second account until the correct information for both accounts was provided, which unfortunately [the reader] has been unable to do to date. PayPal is very happy to review the matter further, but will require [the reader] to provide valid receipts for all of the items she has sold, in order to confirm their legitimacy." You have agreed to send copies of the appropriate paperwork to PayPal to satisfy its concerns. We suggest you consider how to improve the administration of your eBay trading.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk