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The Antiques Trade Gazette has reported before that several firms have been set up with the clear intention of exploiting unwitting traders who are unaware of what their obligations, if any, are under the Act and how to fulfil them.

Now the Gazette has had calls from dealers in London, Kent, Surrey, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire who have received misleading warning letters and the offer of an unnecessary and expensive registration service.

Not all traders have to register, but those businesses who keep records of people and companies must register with the Information Commissioner under the Act. They can do so directly with the commissioner for £35. However, the firms that set out to exploit registration write to businesses, whether they need to register or not, warning them that they face severe penalties if they do not register and inviting them to do so for an inflated fee.

These firms often use names that make them sound like official government agencies rather than commercial enterprises and they do not explain that those who do need to register can do so directly, simply and cheaply. Fees quoted have ranged from £85 to as much as £117.

The Information Commissioner is so concerned about the activities of these businesses that she has listed a number of them on her website, warning that there is no connection between her office and these businesses.

They include:

• Data Protection Act Registration Service
• Data Protection Agency Services Limited
• Data Protection Registration Agency
• Data Collection Enforcement Agency
• Data Registration Agency
• DPA Registration Agency
• Data Protection Act Registration Agency

Southport-based Data Protection Agency Services Ltd was recently reported to have sent official-looking documents warning recipients that they faced a £5000 fine unless they added their names to the Data Protection Register. They said the accompanying six-page form should be filled in and returned to them, and they would then register the details for £117.25.

The Office of Fair Trading has already secured a High Court injunction to prevent Data Protection Act Registration Service, run by Gary McNeish, and Data Protection Agency Services, run by Michael Sullivan, from advertising their services.

The OFT considered the advertising misleading because it gave the impression that it came from an official body and that the businesses receiving it were under some sort of legal obligation to register with the company immediately at a cost of £85. It also failed to explain properly which persons were exempt from notification.

Since then, a firm calling itself Data Protection Agency Registration Services Ltd, has started operating out of a Liverpool business park, issuing similar misleading letters.

The Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988, as amended in 2000, are the statutory measures used by the OFT to prevent the appearance of misleading advertisements if the self-regulatory controls provided by the industry are not adhered to by advertisers.

Details of whether or not you are required to notify under the Data Protection Act 1998, as well as of how to notify direct, are available on the Commission website at www.dpr.gov.uk, or you can telephone the notification helpline on 01625 545740.

Organisations who wish to complain about correspondence received from any of the businesses listed above or similar companies should contact their local Trading Standards Office.