ICO poised to fine illegal marketers

“The ICO has written to both individuals to confirm that the ICO intends to issue both of them with a monetary penalty for breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which regulate electronic marketing.” These are two individuals responsible for distributing millions of spam texts. The monetary penalties (or fines) will be only the second and third penalties directed against private rather than public sector bodies – and dwarf the only previous fine of £1000 against ACS:Law.

“The public,” said Simon Entwisle, director of operations at the ICO have told us that they are increasingly concerned about the illegal marketing texts and calls. These are often made by rogue companies claiming to offer pay outs for accidents a person has never had or PPI claims that they are not necessarily entitled to.” ‘PPI’ is ‘payment protection insurance’. For years it was massively, and it turns out illegally, sold by banks and finance houses to customers taking out loans. On the surface, it appeared to protect customers with difficulties in making repayments (through loss of job, accidents etc); but it rarely did.

The banks have been ordered to repay all money they illegally obtained through PPI sales – and for the last few years there has been a new industry in the UK devoted to helping customers reclaim their money. Much of it is perfectly legal; but much of it, as the ICO has now indicated, is not.

The two individuals concerned now have 28 days to respond and prove that they were complying with the law otherwise final penalty notices will be issued. However, the ICO has made it clear that this might be just the beginning. The law states that people should not be targeted by unsolicited calls or texts with giving prior consent. “While honest mistakes can occasionally be made,” said Entwistle, “we will look to take action against individuals and companies that continue to break the law.”

The ICO has been sifting through the 30,000 complaints it received. “We then wrote to companies who featured at the top of these complaint lists,” said Entwistle. “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 that they are compliant.”

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