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Get to know your personal data protection rights

Whether you're paying a phone contract, transferring money overseas or buying a house, trusting companies with our personal financial data is a part of modern life. We know there are risks, but thanks to the Data Protection Act and ever-improving security software, most people feel content that their information is safe. But unfortunately, a Daily Mail sting has revealed that, for some data companies, customer privacy isn't a priority.

In a major breach of the Data Protection Act, millions of people's salary and pension information has been sold to cold callers and potential fraudsters for as little as five pence. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into the matter. But what exactly are the laws that protect your data, and how can you guard it yourself?

The act covers all the personal information held about you by any company, including your private financial records. Firms holding your data must make sure it's accurate, kept safely and only used for specific, declared purposes. If you want to find out what a firm is storing, you can make a written request to it directly. You'll have to pay a fee, but it'll give you access to everything it has, where it came from and what it plans to use your information for.

There are some simple steps you can take to help prevent breaches from happening. Make sure your passwords are complex and different for each of your accounts, and keep an eye out for any unauthorised transactions on your credit or debit cards. If you're especially concerned, consider signing up to an identity protection service, like LifeLock, which will alert you to any suspicious activity. If you think your information has been compromised, check haveIbeenpwned.com and breachalarm.com. They scan the internet for signs your data has been breached, and you can register for alerts in case your details are found to be vulnerable in future.

Although these are fantastic resources, they can't cover 100% of the information out there. If you're UK-based and suspect your data is at risk, it's a good idea to contact the ICO. As the nation's regulatory body, it has the power to investigate and fine companies. If you’re concerned, you can report it to the ICO via its website or call its helpline on 0303 123 1113.

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