A bank is among the latest firms to be fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for sending illegal marketing texts and emails.

Vanquis Bank Limited, based in Bradford, instigated a campaign to send 870,849 spam text messages and 620,000 spam emails to promote its credit cards. Both the emails and texts broke the law because the recipients had not consented to being sent such messages. Vanquis Bank has now been fined £75,000 by the ICO.

In a separate case, London company Xerpla has been fined £50,000 by the ICO. The firm sent nearly 1.26 million spam emails promoting products and services as far ranging as dog food, wine, competitions and boilers on behalf of other firms. Xerpla did not have the right consent needed from people to send the emails.

ICO Head of Enforcement Steve Eckersley said:

“There are rules in place to protect people from the irritation, and in some cases anxiety and distress, spam texts and emails cause.  

“People need to be properly informed about what they are consenting to. Telling them their details could be passed to ‘similar organisations’ or ‘selected third parties’ cannot be relied upon as specific consent.”

He added:

“People were so exasperated by these messages that they complained to us. That sparked two ICO investigations and enabled us to take action and hold the firms behind this nuisance to account.

“These firms should have taken responsibility for ensuring they had obtained clear and specific consent for the sending of the messages. They didn’t and that is unacceptable.”

“I would encourage anyone troubled by a spam email or text to report it via the ICO’s website.”

Vanquis Bank

Vanquis Bank obtained the marketing lists used to send the messages from other organisations. It relied on indirect consent rather than checking itself that the correct level of consent had been obtained. The consent included non-specific, general wording, such as ‘trusted parties’ and  ‘carefully selected third parties’.

The fine issued by the ICO to Vanquis Bank follows another earlier this year to related firm Provident Personal Credit Limited for spam texts.

The ICO has also issued a legal notice ordering Vanquis Bank to ensure its practices comply with the law.

Xerpla

The spam emails sent by Xerpla were sent to people who had subscribed to two websites operated by the firm – www.yousave.co.uk and www.headsyouwin.co.uk.

When subscribing to the websites people had been told their details could be shared with other organisations by way of a generic statement in a privacy policy. This did not legally qualify as people giving their consent to receive the messages because it was not clear and specific enough.

Spam texts and emails can be reported via the ICO’s website. Mobile phone users can also report spam texts to the GSMA Spam Reporting Service by forwarding the message to 7726.

 

Notes to Editors

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  1. The ICO can take action to change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit. The ICO has the power to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  1. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new law which will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. The Government has confirmed the UK’s decision to leave the EU will not affect the commencement of the GDPR. The Government is introducing measures related to this and wider data protection reforms in a Data Protection Bill.
  1. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) sit alongside the Data Protection Act. They give people specific privacy rights in relation to electronic communications.

There are specific rules on:

  • marketing calls, emails, texts and faxes;
  • cookies (and similar technologies);
  • keeping communications services secure; and
  • customer privacy as regards traffic and location data, itemised billing, line identification, and directory listings.

We aim to help organisations comply with PECR and promote good practice by offering advice and guidance. We will take enforcement action against organisations that persistently ignore their obligations.

  1. Civil Monetary Penalties (CMPs) are subject to a right of appeal to the (First-tier Tribunal) General Regulatory Chamber against the imposition of the monetary penalty and/or the amount of the penalty specified in the monetary penalty notice.
  1. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  1. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns/