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RIBA blows whistle on Data Protection Register 'scam'

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Architects are being targeted in a 'scam' that could net millions for a private company if the unwary fall for it. Practices are being sent letters from an outfit calling itself The Data Collection Enforcement Agency, warning architects that a failure to register with it 'constitutes a criminal offence', which could lead to 'a large fine'.

The 'agency' is rightly warning practices that the law requires organisations holding personal data on individuals to register with the government-appointed Data Commissioners' Office by 24 October. Registration with the office costs £35, but the 'agency' is demanding £95 plus VAT.

'Once your cheque has reached us we will register you with the Notification Department and provide you with helpful documentation, ' says the mailshot, which offers a PO box in Southport, Merseyside, as an address. It was the RIBA's northwest region that first alerted the institute to the development.

Gail Kimber, membership administration manager at the RIBA, said practices should 'completely ignore' the letter. She added that the the Data Commissioners' Office and trading standards authorities are looking into the matter.

'Whatever you do, you should not send them any money, ' said Kimber. 'They sound as if they are an authorised government body, but they are not.

They're just acting as a postman.Why should anyone pay £95 plus VAT when they can pay £35, full stop? I'd definitely call it a scam.'

Kimber said that any practices receiving the letter should pass it on to their local trading standards office. But the letter serves as a useful reminder that practices do need to take action. The 1998 Data Protection Act requires all organisations holding personal data on their computers to register with the government. There are exceptions, but Kimber recommended that practices (including sole practitioners) log on to the government's website to check whether or not they need to take action.

RIBA president Paul Hyett said it was a credit to the institute that the scam had been detected.

'There are enough legitimate charges on practices today without bogus extras, ' he said.

For further information, or to register online, log onto www. dpr. gov. uk. Alternatively, call the helpline on 01625 545745.

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