Do you know who’s looking at your credit report – and are they entitled to be nosing around in your affairs? A businessman is calling for an investigation after discovering that some of the other parties in a commercial dispute he was embroiled in, had managed to get access to information about him from two of Britain’s credit reference agencies.

A large law firm and a team of private investigators acquired information about Bev Oates from the files of Callcredit and Equifax, even though he had not given his permission. The law firm and the investigators had been hired by other people involved in the dispute, and were delving into Oates’s background.

The credit reference agencies store data on the financial activities of millions of Britons, and say they have strict controls to prevent improper searches of their databases by their clients – but admit they are unable to verify at the time that each search has been carried out legitimately.

Oates is calling for an in-depth probe as he believes what has happened to him is not unique. In January this year, Guardian Money featured the case of Gary Gadston, who had discovered that, unbeknown to him, private detectives had accessed his credit report to get the lowdown on his finances.

Gadston had been immersed in a legal row with NatWest, and was shocked to see on his Experian credit report that a firm of private investigators had carried out a search of his file on behalf of Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest’s parent group.

Oates discovered that law firm Weightmans and Manchester-based investigators BTG, who had been hired by separate parties in the property dispute, acquired information about him from the credit reference agencies.

Equifax, Experian and Callcredit gather data from a number of sources to compile detailed financial files on members of the public. They make money by charging companies to search these files when people apply for loans, credit cards, mortgages and so on.

These searches are often done online so they can be completed quickly, and are sometimes carried out by investigators and lawyers on behalf of the client companies.

Crucially, the agencies say that none of their clients can search their databases for information about an individual unless that person gives their permission on each occasion. Individuals are typically deemed to have given their consent for such searches when they apply for products from banks and other firms.

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