The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

Two separate companies that sent nuisance text messages during the Covid-19 pandemic have been fined a total of £330,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Messages from one of the firms prompted a record 10,000 complaints.

Leads Works Ltd

The ICO has fined West Sussex-based Leads Works Ltd £250,000 for sending more than 2.6 million nuisance text messages to customers without their valid consent.

The messages, sent between 16 May and 26 June 2020, resulted in over 10,000 complaints.

Andy Curry, ICO Head of Investigations, said:

“The number of complaints we’ve had from members of the public who have been affected in this case far exceeds any we’ve seen to date – showing just how annoyed and frustrated people were by these messages.

“Leads Works Ltd sought to capitalise on the pandemic by sending a significant number of unwanted text messages relating to, and directly referencing, lockdown when the population was at its most vulnerable.”

Examples of the messages sent include:

“In lockdown and want to earn extra cash? Avon is now FULLY ONLINE, FREE to do and paid weekly. Reply with your name for info. 18+ only. Text STOP to opt out.”

The ICO’s investigation found Avon did not send or instigate the text messages.

Leads Works Ltd has also been issued with an enforcement notice by the ICO, ordering it to stop sending unlawful direct marketing messages.

Valca Vehicle Ltd

The ICO has fined a Manchester company £80,000 for sending nuisance marketing messages during the pandemic.

Valca Vehicle Ltd specialises in lead generation for financial products.

Following complaints from the public to the ICO, the company was found to have sent more than 95,000 text messages from June to July 2020 without the recipients’ permission. This is against the law.

The messages referenced the pandemic and were designed to appeal to individuals whose finances have been adversely affected. This, in the Commissioner’s view, was a clear attempt to capitalise on, and profiteer from, the health crisis.

The texts read:

“*firstname* Affected by Covid? Struggling with finances? lost job /furloughed? Were here to help! Gvnmnt backed support see if you qualify http://www.debtquity.org”

The company, which is currently operating as ‘Debtquity’ to generate leads for debt management products, has also been issued with an enforcement notice by the ICO, ordering them to stop sending the messages.

Mr Curry said:

”Not only was the company breaking the law by sending unwanted marketing messages, they were trying to take advantage of people who may be financially vulnerable due to the health crisis.

“We have issued a number of fines recently to companies that have used the pandemic as a way of making money. Businesses that think they can exploit the pandemic in this way should think again. We can fine you and take action to recover that fine where necessary.”

You can find out more about the ICO’s work to recover fines here.

Spam texts and emails, as well as nuisance calls can be reported through the ICO’s website at ico.org.uk/concerns. 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 (ICO) upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  2. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018, the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  3. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 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.
  4. The ICO has the power under PECR to impose a monetary penalty on a data controller of up to £500,000.
  5. 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.
  6. Any monetary penalty is paid into the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund and is not kept by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
  7. To report a concern to the ICO telephone our helpline 0303 123 1113 or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.