Two female private investigators who pretended to be HSE and VEC officials were able to blag personal data from other civil servants to help credit unions find members who had defaulted on their loans.
One of their personas was ‘Colette’, an employee with a VEC drop-in centre in Dublin, who convinced a Department of Social Welfare official in Carrick-on-Shannon who administered the Back to Education Scheme to repeatedly divulge addresses by claiming she was checking on people’s eligibility for the scheme.
The other persona was ‘Ann’, who worked in the HSE administrative offices at Dr Steeven’s Hospital in Dublin and regularly phoned the HSE’s own Primary Care Reimbursement Service in Finglas under the pretence of checking eligibility for medical cards.
But the ruse was uncovered during routine checks by the assistant data protection commissioner on the data protection practices of a number of credit unions.
Tony Delaney told Bray District Court yesterday that his curiosity was sparked by the frequency with which St Mary’s Parish credit union in Limerick used the services of MCK Rentals, trading as MCK Investigations, a private investigation company in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
After visiting a second credit union, and finding it used the same company, he checked correspondence between the private investigators and credit union and found members’ PPS numbers had been divulged by the second credit union.
The year-long investigation resulted in the directors of MCK Investigations, Margaret Stuart, 56, and Wendy Martin, 45, and the company each being charged with 23 counts of unlawfully obtaining personal information and disclosing the same to a third party, in breach of the Data Protection Acts.
MCK Investigations pleaded guilty to five sample charges and Ms Stuart and Ms Martin each pleaded guilty to one sample charge.
Judge Kennedy imposed fines of €1,500 on each of the seven charges and gave the defendants four months to pay.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved