The ICO has issued two penalty notices to two illegal marketers responsible for sending millions of text messages offering accident compensation and payment protection insurance (PPI) to members of the public.
As a result of sending the texts, the individuals could be fined a total of “well over” £250,000 for breaking the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which regulate electronic marketing, the ICO says.
Greg Jones, an ICO spokesman, told Information Age that its nine-month investigation into the unnamed companies marks the start of the UK privacy watchdog’s crackdown on illegal marketing activities.
“We were given the power last year to issue the managed penalty for this office, which was finalised in January,” he said. “In that time, perpetrators changed addresses and sent the messages from various locations around the UK.”
According to Jones, the two marketers responsible inserted a SIM card into a device similar to a bank server, which sends the same message to randomly generated numbers using software in a short period of time.
“We’ve been working with mobile phone operators so we can see where these messages are being sent from and what numbers are being used,” he said. “Bodies like the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), who are receiving complaints from their registered users still receiving spam texts, have also worked with us.”
The perpetrators, who have 28 days to respond, can accept, deny or challenge the penalty, Jones says.
“If they say they were complying with the law, and we believe they have done enough to comply with the regulations, we could drop the penalty,” he said. “Or if they challenge the status of the penalty and accept that they breached the regulations but not to the extent that we say they have, the penalty could be reduced.”
In a statement, Simon Entwisle, the ICO’s director of operations, said that the public are increasingly concerned about illegal marketing texts and calls.
“While companies can phone people to sell them the latest product or service, the law states that individuals should not receive unsolicited texts or automated marketing calls unless they have given their permission,” he said. “We know many companies are failing to do this and two individuals responsible for sending millions of illegal marketing messages are now facing six figure penalties unless they can prove otherwise.”
On his ICO website blog, Entwisle wrote that the body has received almost 30,000 responses since asking members of the public to report any calls or texts they have received from an unknown sender using an online survey.
“We have been analysing information from relevant bodies, such as the TPS, as well as our own complaints figures in order to identify the most complained-about companies,” he wrote. “From the responses we received, eight companies are now being investigated further and have been warned that they may face further action unless they can prove they are compliant.”