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Bulldog customer details go walkies

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About 100,000 customers of the broadband provider Bulldog appear to have had private details stolen, it emerged today.

Cable & Wireless, which sold the Bulldog customer base to rival Pipex last autumn, said it had emerged that some Bulldog customer contact details had been "illegally obtained" by an unnamed third party in 2005.

It is not yet clear precisely what information was taken. The Guardian was contacted by one of those affected who claimed that the data included bank account and credit card details.

C&W said there was "absolutely no evidence" that customers had had their bank or credit card details used illegally. But it revealed it had received "a very small number of complaints" from customers who had received unsolicited calls from a third party making use of the illegally obtained details.

This latest apparent theft of personal information comes three weeks after it emerged that computer hackers targeted the cut-price fashion retailer TK Maxx and stole information from more than 45 million credit and debit card holders on both sides of the Atlantic. That incident prompted warnings that the criminals involved could use the data to commit identity theft.

C&W bought Bulldog in 2004 and in September last year sold its 110,000 broadband customers to Pipex for £12m.

James Brown, managing director of Bulldog Internet, said: "Our understanding is that, following an external enquiry by Cable & Wireless, it has become apparent that at some point in December 2005, Cable & Wireless had some of their customer contact details illegally obtained by a third party. This resulted in a small number of their customers receiving unsolicited calls."

He added: "Cable & Wireless have advised us they are taking the necessary legal action to prevent any further unsolicited calls."

A C&W spokeswoman said that it was its customers' right to be protected from this kind of activity. "As such, we are already taking appropriate legal action against the third parties that we believe may be responsible for this unauthorised use of our customer data."

She said the company believed that the number of customer records stolen was "in the region of 100,000," and added that the incident came to light relatively recently. She was unable to comment on the identity of those who had obtained the information.

Last month, after details emerged of the extraordinary scale of the TK Maxx credit card heist, internet security experts urged all businesses and banks to tighten up their computer security systems to protect their customers.

TK Maxx shoppers were advised to check their credit and debit transactions for irregularities amid warnings that the criminals involved could even use the data to commit identity theft. Internet fraud is now one of the fastest growing areas of illegal activity in the UK.

In the TK Maxx case, names, card numbers and personal data were stolen - and in the US, social security numbers - over a 17-month period and covering transactions dating as far back as December 2002.

The firm said it did not know how many of the cardholders affected were shoppers at TK Maxx's 210 stores in Britain and Ireland, although more of them were likely to be American.

Rupert Jones
Guardian Unlimited