Text Spammers Fined by Information Commissioner’s Office
The Information Commissioner’s Office today fined the owners of a marketing company £440,000 after they bombarded the public with millions of unwanted spam text messages.
The Information Commissioner’s Office used its powers to fine for the first time after the men breached the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations that came into force in January 2012. The Commissioner’s office is now considering more fines for 3 other companies as it continues its crackdown on the illegal practice of spam texting.
Today’s fines followed an 18-month investigation into the activities of Tetrus Telecoms, jointly owned by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish.
In May 2011 it was reported to the ICO that the company was sending huge volumes of unsolicited texts from offices in Stockport and Birmingham, without the consent of the recipients and without identifying the sender. The texts were largely related to personal injury and supposed PPI claims. The texts were designed and written in such a manner as to get the recipient to contact the sender, believing that the recipient was entitled to some sort of compensation. Many of the texts suggested blatantly that compensation was waiting to be claimed and could be worth thousands of Pounds.
The ICO’s investigation included raids at the company’s Stockport premises, in August 2011, and the Manchester home of Niebel, in February this year.
The evidence obtained showed Tetrus was using unregistered pay-as-you-go sim cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal text messages a day, generating income of £7,000 – £8,000 a day. Niebel was ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000, while McNeish has been fined £140,000.
Information commissioner, Christopher Graham, said: ‘The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law. In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses. We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations.’
What does the law say?
The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover the way organisations send direct marketing by electronic means, including by text message (SMS).
Organisations cannot send you marketing text messages you didn’t agree to receive, unless:
- the sender has obtained your details through a sale or negotiations for a sale;
- the messages are about similar products or services offered by the sender; and
- you were given an opportunity to refuse the texts when your details were collected and, if you did not refuse, you were given a simple way to opt out in all the text messages you received.
The Regulations do not cover marketing text messages sent to business numbers.
What can I do to avoid unwanted texts?
- Be careful who you give your telephone number to.
- Don’t advertise your telephone number, for example by putting it on the internet.
- Check privacy policies and marketing opt outs carefully. Use them to tell the organisation not to contact you by text.