Wu knows there is a market for personal data because he has received emails asking companies to sell customers’ personal data. He gets these emails because he uses a business email address to register for various services. He shows Varsity one email where businesses are told that a set of personal data, including the last name, telephone number and the range of income of an individual can be sold at HK$1 to HK$5 each.
Wu suspects employees are sometimes unable to resist the temptation of selling personal data to make quick money, especially when they are in financial need.
According to Wu, cold calls may involve the selling of personal data and excessive collection of personal data. Most of cold callers claim to be staff from banks and beauty centres. Usually they promote personal loan services or slimming programmes. But some can be bogus. For example, callers may pretend they are staff from a well-known bank, and ask for personal information.
Undesirable marketing tactics by cold callers can cause actual loss to careless consumers. One of the cases Wu has come across is a victim of phone fraud who lost more than HK$10,000.
The victim, who only wants to be identified as Ms Chang, got a call from a beauty centre, asking for a “Miss Tsang” at the end of July. Chang admits that the use of her name, albeit mispronounced, made her drop her guard.
At first, the salesperson told Chang she had been chosen to be a mystery customer who could try out services at five different beauty centres and then make an evaluation in exchange for big discounts.
Chang was interested in the offer but she needed time to consider. The salesperson piled on the pressure and urged her to register during the phone call, otherwise she would be unable to extend the offer.
During the process of registration, Chang gave the salesperson her credit card number and other personal information including her full name, email and home address. But she had not agreed to make any payment. Later, she was shocked when she found that the company had used her credit card to pay for beauty treatments without her consent. Immediately, she turned to the police for help.
However, the police said since she did not state precisely “I do not join”, her response was ambiguous. They said it would be hard to charge the company.
Chang suspects the company had got her information from somewhere else and without her consent. “I am sure that the person who called was not from an organisation which I’m familiar with, not any beauty centre I have joined because they would know how to pronounce my last name. The salesperson called me Miss Tsang, instead of Miss Chang.”