Financial services firms could be dragged into hacking scandal

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Insurers and other financial services firms could be dragged into the hacking scandal if a list of 94 companies and individuals linked to rogue private investigators is released.

The list has been given to the home affairs select committee by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. Soca has asked the committee not to publish it in case it compromises ongoing investigations.

The list has nine insurers, eight “financial services” firms, one venture capitalist, two accountancy firms and one auditing firm which have all been linked to rogue private investigators during an inquiry into the PI industry called Operation Millipede.

Under the operation, four private investigators were jailed in February for talking banks, building societies and phone companies into revealing other people’s confidential information, a practice known as “blagging”.

Home affairs select committee chair Keith Vaz has hinted that he may push for the list to be published. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, he said: “I do not think that Parliament should be part of a ‘secret squirrel’ club where we are given a list that is important and should be in the public interest but we are not allowed to publish it.

”The reason that we can’t publish it at the moment – though I am consulting with members of the committee and we will come to a view on this – is because we are told that both the information commissioner and the Metropolitan police may be interested in investigating the 94 companies, firms, individuals that are on the second list.

Although Soca has designated the list classified, the committee could publish it under parliamentary privilege. Soca will be called to give evidence to the committee when Parliament returns after the summer.

Vaz added: ”The deadline, if you like, is when we publish our report into private investigators, we would like to be in a position where we publish the entire list. But we don’t want to compromise any investigation that the Metropolitan police may or may not be involved in.”

In March, the FSA launched a review of how insurers use private investigators.

At the time, FSA head of general and wholesale insurance Simon Green said: “At the moment, this is a piece of work designed to help us better understand market practice, but we are not ruling out undertaking further work using the regulatory tools available to us should we find firms are not complying with their regulatory obligations.”

An ABI spokeswoman says: “Insurers act within the law – the ABI published guidance in 2007 backed by the Information Commissioner to give a framework to insurers who need to use private investigators in very limited circumstances when a customer is suspected of fraud. It clearly states that insurers should only use Private Investigators who operate within the confines of the law and to high ethical standards.”

“Given levels of insurance fraud – our recently released fraud statistics show that insurers detected frauds to the value of £1.1bn last year – insurers owe it to customers to do everything possible to protect their interests, including ensuring that claims are legitimate.”