Warning to SPCK/SSG Bookshop Customers and Staff: Your Personal Data is At Risk

Pile of rubbish seen through the window

Cambridge, 26 August 2008: Pile of debris seen through the window

Phil Groom writes:

What, exactly, is in these bags and boxes left behind by SSG when this shop was abandoned? Is it merely rubbish?

We will probably never know. But in another shop, now let to new tenants, we found out: amongst other things, personnel records and customer credit card slips.

A former member of staff, who does not wish to be identified, was passing the shop where s/he once worked as the new tenants were moving in. Seeing them clearing out the remains of SSG’s tenancy, s/he asked if s/he could take some of the debris off their hands. “Sure,” they said, and, amongst other things, they handed over a metal filing box that had been left behind.

At home, s/he opened the box and discovered:

… personal material about one staff member who had a disability and was employed with help from […] – there are several of […]’s confidential reports in there. Also included are job applications, staff addresses and phone numbers… there is even a month’s worth of till reconciliations, including the PDQ machine slips, which, if you know anything about the SPCK tills, means that I have a whole batch of credit card details with the full number and start finish dates…

This may be a one-off or it may be more widespread: we have no way of knowing. But if you have shopped in or worked for an SPCK/SSG Bookshop, be aware: your personal data is at risk; identity fraud and credit card scams are a very real possibility. Due diligence on data protection is not being exercised as the former shops are being abandoned.

On Friday I posted about “Two years of horror” – the Brewers’ Legacy to Britain: today, exactly two years on, we begin to see the true colours of that legacy in this act of gross negligence.

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34 responses to “Warning to SPCK/SSG Bookshop Customers and Staff: Your Personal Data is At Risk

  1. All because the Brewers forgot to pay steamline.

  2. This really does need to be the subject of a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

  3. I agree heartily with Mole Island – let the Information Commissioner in Warrington have the details and get him to investigate information handling.

  4. This is dreadful. Having shopped in Salisbury during the last year, I’m wondering whether to pop back over and ask what procedures they have for data protection.

  5. Valiant for Truth

    One wonders about shops such as Lincoln too where staff were forced out in a hurry. I recall recently a blogger saying that ex staff were becoming more vocal and coming up with information such as above. But there seems to be silence elsewhere, always claiming legal matters. Surely a simple statements could be made such as “we do/do not own Exeter shop”, “we are/are not intending to take over the shop in Durham” etc.. Also, any news from the courts in Houston, and shouldn’t they have contacted creditors who had lodged their claims re the bankruptcy?

  6. Forgive me Phil Groom for posting on this site so often.When it comes to data protection – many things come to mind. I remember worrying about this when all orders had to go through St Andrews. Staff wouldn’t know what happened to customer details once those had been passed on. I am not for one moment saying that St Andrews bookshop staff would have abused customer information. Hope you get my drift here. I had the same concerns with Thirdspace. That personal data was left in a shop beggars belief. The only way to account for this is that staff were dismissed with immediate effect and had no time to shred documents or had no shredder.

    I’m reminded of Chester. All accounts were paid via the Chester staff. The Chester staff were dismissed and the shop closed for a while but contact details for creditor enquiries… Chester. So I guess Streamline were not paid and staff had to use that good old device which left customer details open to abuse.

    I agree with Valiant. There has been far too much silence and inaction. That’s the kind of shituation in which germs thrive. I’ve enquired from the SPCK shop about Exeter and I’ll probably be met with silence.

    ENC, Durham and Chichester are not bankrupt. So why are suppliers not taking action? Maybe I’m just an idiot. At least I’m not a silent one.

  7. I have it on very good authority that re: Durham, the original SPCK lease is still in place which was simply passed to SSG by novation. This lease has an annual get out clause whereby either party can give six months notice by 31st October. The original lease terminates April 2010. Therefore would now be the time to remind the D&C that the current state of the shop is not a good example of Gospel living? Nor is it good stewardship of their resources.

  8. Amen Pax. I suppose the only reason that the Dean and Chapter have a problem is that they do not want to run the shop themselves. Nobody knows why they can’t cut out the middle man.

  9. asingleblog, no apology needed: carry on posting. I just wish this was a carry on comedy instead of real life! But this latest development is no laughing matter, and nor is the ongoing situation in Durham and the other remaining shops.

  10. Have just found out all Birmingham papers were sent to Durham, in a box. What they have done with the information on all the paper work, I do not know, nor do I know why it was sent to Durham, Tammy is going to ring them tomorrow to see if they can find the box and shred the contents for us.

  11. Pauline, the papers may be evidence of data protection violations – e.g. if there are job applications which have not been shredded etc., but I guess you want peace of mind rather than yet another set of court proceedings!

  12. You know, one of my favorite pieces of Murphy’s Law is, “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Ever since reading the thread on YouTube, I’ve been trying to figure out if these people are driven by malice, stupidity, or both. This is stupidity that strays into the arena of negligence. It’s also (ahem) something that should go to a reporter at some large and influential daily newspaper in the area.

  13. Phelim McIntyre

    Looking back at the memo from PB with the advice about Amazon/Third Space Books many of us were worried about data protection then and it appears our fears were well founded.

  14. Valiant for Truth

    Anne – those who have had dealings with the Brewers would say both.

  15. Pauline Edwards

    David, some the papers had our bank details on them, so they need to be shredded now, Im not sure what the other paper work was, I will try and find out.

  16. Pauline: fair enough!

    Whilst waiting for a reply from Houston, I’m taking my spare time drafting a letter to the Charity Commission about things like Gift Aid, the non-filing of accounts etc. If any readers here want to suggest other items the Charity Commission should look into (with evidence, please), then do let me know via Facebook or my blog.

  17. By June 2008 most employees were told to leave, the shops were left “in aspic”
    credit card slips, personal details of customers,orders,subscriptons paid , booktokens , monies etc… just had to be left
    Apart from being forced out many staff were upset that long standing and loyal customers were left in the dark…
    not to mention landlords, utility suppliers, publishers etc…

  18. Talking of chester weren’t all the staff details transfered there, paper records of not only personal details but bank accounts etc..
    As all the staff were sacked, who has access now…agency staff, brewers …?
    Worrying…..

  19. Since Chester was where most of the finances, like wages were sorted this is worrying. Hopefully all documents were shredded or deleted from the computer.

  20. Don’t think staff had the chance….

  21. Far too much left to chance…

  22. i removed a file of application forms when i left our shop – i also rang the people up to tell them not to accept any work from P&M B.

  23. Thanks Chicken Udon. Paper work has been shredded in a few cases. Don’t know what information was on the computers sold on e-bay.

  24. Just checking site stats: congratulations, asingleblog, on posting this blog’s 1,000th comment! Yes, that one, on Oct 24, 2008 at 3:38pm.

  25. I don’t like that picture of Cambridge, makes my stomach sink every time I see it because I had to create it. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to put it all in a skip (because, of course, they hadn’t paid to have the rubbish collected) before i got fired all those months back. I don’t know if it’s all still there but I did my best to make sure there was no personal data left in the pile, and any that i found is still (if it hasn’t been moved) in the single filing cabinet on the lower floor, due to be shipped to Bradford (or wherever the brewhole decided it should be kept).
    With regards to the paperwork in Chester, yes it was still there pre-firing, and I doubt he’s moved it at all. Yes, the temps have access to it, and no the filing cabinet isn’t locked. Don’t you just love this concept of ‘security’?
    The computers from all the closed shops as of end-of-sept have been kept in the basement in Bradford, none were sold on ebay (because that way my job and I didn’t do it, precisely for the reasons stated above) and any that were reused outside of the company were sold back to Booksolve to be wiped clean and sent on to whomever, so there’s nothing to worry about there.
    Unfortunately I can’t comment on what stupid things he’s done since I’ve left, because I’m not in the loop any more. But I hope someone locks him up.

  26. Thanks John. In just one post you’ve cleared up a lot of concerns. Now if only others would do the same. You cannot comment on what Phil Brewer has done since you were sacked for signing the petition but you can “amuse” us by telling us what he used to do. You’re right, he needs to be locked up. By the way, I read that book you found in Cambridge ISBN978184744006. You should have given it to Phil Brewer as a parting gift. Be happy.

  27. Got the ISBN number wrong. Nothing new. The book was THE NO ASSHOLE RULE…Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

  28. John thankyou, for giving us this information, im sure you did your best ,just like the rest of us .

  29. And to think…mr brewer once considered the staff files so important that he wanted the office they were housed in locked with no access for the branch manager (whose office it was)or staff of that shop….even though they were locked in a secure cabinet!?
    It was also pointed out to mr brewer that it was hard to run a shop if the staff had no access to the safe, computer, fax etc..
    How times have changed….

  30. Was this the same managers office that phil arranged to be cleared(paperwork,personal belongings etc..)And put into bin bags out for the rubbish on their day off?

  31. Just been wandering around the Cambridge shop: same layout with all the old shopfittings reused so I’ve been doing a bit of a double-take, but it’s now The Cambridge Toy Shop. I didn’t ask them what they did with the garbage … maybe should have done…

  32. The lady who used to work in Chester sent out documents the day before Brewer pulled the plug on the agency. Most were shredded. Heaven knows what happens to the rest of the personal details sitting in one of those bookshops. Personally, if my ID were stolen I would sue Peter Gotham. That’s my usual blunt way with words.

  33. Valiant for Truth

    As SPCK Bookshops were always asked to keep certain financial records for a number of years, to back up the Head Office accounts and to be available, if needed, for Revenue & Customs, I am sure that a number of shops will also have in them sensitive financial information about SPCK. If I were SPCK, I’d ask for the material to be dealt with.

  34. Thankfully Phil the Cambridge Toy Shop were on the ball and shredded anything they felt might be sensitive.

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