Questions of cash: How did Big Brother get all these details about my daughter?


Q. I recently opened an online saver account linked to my current account and Visa debit card. To verify the transaction I was asked three security questions. These were: which of these phone numbers have you had; which of these addresses have you lived at; and the last, which horrified me, was in which age range is your daughter – and then they gave me her first name and middle initial. I am outraged that this information is known by the financial services companies and used by them. It feels as though Big Brother really exists. I phoned Verified by Visa to complain, and it said the security questions were generated by the credit-reference agency Equifax. I phoned Equifax, who said they only used information supplied by my bank. I phoned my bank who said they have nothing to do with it and it is down to Equifax. I would like to know whether Equifax stores all this information about me or just accesses it from a source. How do they know details about my daughter? Can I veto their use of this? Where can I complain about this intrusion into my privacy and get my daughter's name removed from these files? JN, Surrey.

A. This information is obtained from the electoral register. You removed your family's details from the publicly available version, but credit-reference agencies have access to another version on which those details are retained. They are permitted to access the full version under anti-money laundering legislation. A spokeswoman for Equifax explains: “Equifax holds the information to be able to provide it to lenders. Any information Equifax holds that is supplied by third parties has been provided on the basis of prior notification, or according to regulation. Consumers do have the right to see what data is held about them and are able to query it.” The background to this is that since 2002 there have been two versions of electoral registers: one is called the full register and the other the edited register. Individuals can opt out of the edited register, but not out of the full register. Personal details such as full names and addresses – and, for those coming up their 18th birthday, the date on which they will be 18 – are shown on the full register. This information is not normally available to commercial organisations for individuals who have opted out of the full register. However, the full register can be used by financial-services businesses for anti-money laundering purposes. It was in accordance with this that Equifax provided your personal history and family details to your bank for its security checks. The use of personal information is regulated by the Information Commissioner, whose office confirmed that the statement given to us by Equifax is correct. A spokesman added: “The Data Protection Act does not prevent credit-reference agencies from accessing the full electoral register for limited purposes – including anti-money laundering and vetting applications for credit.” As a goodwill gesture Equifax is offering you a free copy of your credit report. You remain unhappy and have the right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service. But Equifax and your bank operated in line with the legislation, so it is difficult to see what you could achieve.

Q. I have had a Tesco Bonus Credit Card since 2010. My main reason was to accumulate points in Tesco's loyalty scheme. During 2012 I realised my Clubcard number was not accumulating points, despite me spending thousands of pounds on the card. I have been in communication with Tesco over this since December last year, with phone calls and a long email correspondence, but I have got nowhere. The Clubcard people keep referring me to the credit card division of Tesco Bank and they are playing pass the parcel with me. Eventually the customer service department sorted out the current problem and points are now being awarded to my card, but it seems Tesco is incapable of awarding me the backdated points I missed out on over the last few years. I feel cheated. PM, by email.

A. The problem, it seems, is about Tesco's database management, but the problem has now been resolved. A Tesco spokesman says: “We did not meet our high standards of customer service. We have apologised to [the reader], backdated his Clubcard points and taken steps to ensure this doesn't happen again.”

Q. I changed gas and electricity supplier from Npower to Co-operative Energy on 15 January. I received a statement from Npower saying it owed me £466.36 on electricity, but it will not refund this until the gas account is finalised. I have phoned Npower repeatedly since January and was eventually told in April that there was a dispute over the final gas reading. I had not been made aware of this. I have provided the current reading by phone and email. I was then given a complaint number at the beginning of May. In spite of phoning three times since then the matter has not progressed. I understand they have a further eight weeks to resolve this before I can take action through the ombudsman. I have been complaining to Npower since February. PL, Sheffield.

A. Npower says the original final reading for your transfer of gas supplies was disputed and a new meter reading was required. Given the time that had elapsed already prior to us taking up the matter with Npower, the dispute was escalated when we contacted the company. A new reading was then agreed between the two suppliers. This left a balance owing to you of a much smaller amount of £180.43. This has now been paid to you by Npower, along with a goodwill payment of £50.

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