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Business scam spotted at last minute

PUBLISHED: 11:07 18 June 2003 | UPDATED: 14:00 03 March 2010

TEA shop owner Dawn Howard told today how she would have parted with £95 for data protection - had her keen-eyed husband not spotted it was a scam.

Trading standards officers say dozens of small businesses have received letters from unscrupulous data protection firms telling firms they have to register - and they are warning them to be on the look-our for sharp practices.

TEA shop owner Dawn Howard told today how she would have parted with £95 for data protection – had her keen-eyed husband not spotted it was a scam.

Trading standards officers say dozens of small businesses have received letters from unscrupulous data protection firms telling firms they have to register – and they are warning them to be on the look-our for sharp practices.

Mrs Howard, who runs Comptons tea rooms in Orwell Road, Felixstowe, said she would have simply paid up had her husband Nigel not been suspicious and looked into the matter.

"It said 'final demand' on the letter and was very professionally produced and looked very official. It said if I did not pay the £95 to be registered, I could be liable for a fine of £5,000," said Mrs Howard.

"That's very frightening if you've got nobody to ask about it. Small businesses have so many rules and regulations that this just looked like another bill to pay.

"If my husband had not looked into it, in all likelihood I would have just filled in the form and paid up – spending money I had no need to spend."

Mr Howard did some research on the internet and discovered that the senders of the letter were bogus and that many small companies not only did not have to register for data protection, but did not have to pay as much as £95 if they did.

"When you look closely at the letter, it has not been sent to me but my business, which means they could have just got our name out of a directory somewhere," said Mrs Howard.

"Also, they know nothing about our business – their form asks us to fill in all the details and tell them about ourselves, which could also provide these people with information we didn't want them to have and they could use later.

"As it turns out, we jave not need to register for data protection in any case."

The "Final Notice" tells businesses to register with the Information Commissioner in line with the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. They are asked to pay £95 plus VAT.

Trading standards officers say there is nothing wrong with offering a service of registering companies under the DPA, but some of the mailings have been misleading as many businesses do not need to be registered.

Many of these DPA registration companies are also being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading.

If businesses do have to register  it can be done very easily over the internet and details can be found on the official government website at www.dpr.gov.uk

The cost is £35 with no VAT.

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