Information Commissioner's Office
Five businesses fined a total of £435,000 for making nearly half a million unlawful marketing calls
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined five companies a total of £435,000 for making nearly half a million unlawful marketing calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
It is against the law to make a live marketing call to anyone who is registered with the TPS, unless they have told the specific organisation that they do not object to receiving calls from them.
The companies collectively made nearly half a million unlawful marketing calls, some of which appeared to be directed at elderly vulnerable people who had taken action to block the calls by registering with the TPS.
The companies were calling people attempting to make them sign up for white goods insurance, such as washing machine, kitchen appliance or boiler cover. In most instances, the callers already had or did not need the service.
The ICO investigation also found, in some cases, the companies were deliberately targeting a specific demographic: including homeowners, over 60, with a landline. During the calls, there is evidence that some of the companies used apparent pressure tactics with a view to obtaining payment details from people.
Andy Curry, Head of ICO Investigations said:
“We are here to support legitimate companies who want to comply with the law. Earlier this week, we released updated direct marketing guidance to help those very businesses.
“However, we will not stop investigating and taking robust action against companies, to protect people and especially the vulnerable, where we find a blatant disregard for the law.
“The pressure tactics, and sometimes false or misleading statements these companies used were completely unacceptable. To be made to feel as though you have to hand over your bank details simply to get someone off the phone is nothing short of shameful, and that is why we have taken action against these companies.”
Details of the fines
Allapplianceservices UK Ltd (AUKL), based in Brighton, made 99,313 unsolicited direct marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between 1 January 2021 and 28 June 2021. AUKL came to the attention of the ICO via the Financial Conduct Authority. The ICO’s investigation found AUKL appeared to use pressure tactics during the calls insisting card details were given, with one person saying they “just wanted AUKL to go away” and so handed over their payment details. The ICO concluded the company contravened electronic marketing law in order to maximise turnover and profit. One of the complainants had reduced capacity as a result of a stroke, with a second having dementia. The ICO has fined AUKL £85,000.
Boiler Cover Breakdown Limited (BCBL), based in Sutton, Surrey made 9,075 unsolicited direct marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between 1 January 2020 and 31 August 2020. Boiler Breakdown Limited (BBL) also based in Sutton, Surrey made 348,724 unsolicited direct marketing calls to people registered with the TPS during the same time period. Both companies have the same Director, with phone lines rented by one company used by both businesses to make calls. The ICO’s investigation found calls were specifically targeted towards vulnerable people. The ICO has fined BCBL £120,000 and BBL £140,000. Both companies have also been issued with an enforcement notice demanding they comply with the law within 30 days. Both companies have appealed to the First-tier Tribunal against the ICO’s monetary penalty notices.
Repair Plans UK Limited (RPUK), based in Brighton made 21,347 unsolicited direct marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between 18 January 2021 and 7 September 2021. RPUK came to the attention of the ICO via West Sussex Trading Standards. The ICO’s investigation found the company targeted a specific demographic, as they bought data which asked for people aged 60+, were homeowners and had a landline, and made false and misleading statements during their calls. Throughout the investigation the company failed to provide any details of their compliant marketing procedures and the ICO found at least one incident of £180 being taken unnecessarily from a person’s bank account. The ICO has fined RPUK £70,000 and issued an enforcement notice demanding the company comply with the law within 30 days.
Utility Guard Limited (UGL), based in Chichester, West Sussex made 1,932 unsolicited direct marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between 4 August 2020 and 28 July 2021. The ICO investigation found the company did not hold a TPS licence, were calling customers, some of which were designated by “trueCall” as vulnerable, and had taken money from a person who has dementia. The company showed a wilful disregard of the law and failed to respond to multiple enquiries from the ICO. The ICO has fined UGL £20,000 and issued an enforcement notice demanding the company comply with the law within 30 days.
Examples of some of the complaints received include:
“The call was from a company called Boiler Breakdown Ltd. The caller said that my mother's boiler breakdown cover was in need of renewal even though this is not the case. My mother told the lady that her daughter dealt with all her finances but they went on to ask how old she was and how she did her shopping and the method of payment, then asked her to give her credit card details. Luckily even at the age of 82 she knew this was a scam and ended the call, other elderly people may not be so alert. She dialled 1471 and made a note of the number and passed it on to me to look into. My mother was quite angry that the lady had the audacity to ask for her credit card details, she was very upset.” (sic)
“I was present when she received the call from them about the so called policy, I could sense that she was getting quite confused and flustered so I took over the call. In my opinion when I challenged the caller and requested written details of the policy I believe that they thought better of it and ended the call.” (sic)
“Person identified himself as 'George' tried to persuade my mum (who took the call) to provide her bank details to give her a refund on her boiler warranty direct debit. She doesn't have a direct debit and it's a relatively new boiler so she was immediately suspicious, and the scammer hung up when she refused to provide her bank details. My mum is 85 years old and in lockdown, she was anxious about this call and wanted me to check if it was legitimate. A quick perusal online suggested this number is a serial offender regarding boiler warranty scams.”
Advice for members of the public
To help you, your friends and relatives stop unlawful marketing calls you can:
- Register landlines and mobile numbers with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) free of charge. The TPS is a register used by legitimate marketing companies to identify people who have said they don’t want to receive marketing calls. Alternatively, you can tell the company directly that you do not wish to be contacted.
- Be bold. You do not owe these callers your time, your courtesy nor your money. So, hang up and report any nuisance calls you receive to the ICO using our online nuisance calls reporting tool.
- Refer concerns that you or someone you know has been the victim of fraud to Action Fraud (in England, Northern Ireland and Wales) and Police Scotland (in Scotland); wider concerns about a business’ practices can be referred to Trading Standards; any abandoned calls that you receive to Ofcom;
- If your loved one is particularly vulnerable – for example, if they have dementia or other underlying health conditions – then you can speak to their telephone network to see what call blocking solutions may be available to support them. Many of these services are provided free of charge.
Every complaint counts, with the ICO issuing over £2 million in penalties against rogue companies responsible for nuisance calls, texts and emails in 2022. Some of these investigations began with a single complaint from a member of the public. The ICO routinely works closely with other regulators and industry partners to share intelligence and take targeted action against companies and directors responsible for initiating nuisance calls.
For more information about the ICO’s work to tackle nuisance calls visit ico.org.uk/nuisancecalls.
Notes to editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the United Kingdom General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five acts and regulations.
- The ICO can take action to address and change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.
Original article link: https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/media-centre/news-and-blogs/2022/12/five-businesses-fined-a-total-of-435-000-for-making-nearly-half-a-million-unlawful-marketing-calls/
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