Interested in how we deal with nuisance calls and spam texts?

Andy Curry, Enforcement Group Manager takes you through a month at the ICO highlighting the work that goes on behind the scenes in the battle against nuisance calls and texts...

11:30 | Thursday 16 April

As we mentioned in an earlier post the way we report our figures and work around nuisance calls has changed. For the first time our new monthly report is now included on our website under Action we’ve taken. It shows the current themes, issues and trends along with the action we’ve taken in response.

Headline figures up to the end of March show we currently have 45 cases under investigation, seven new companies being monitored and that we’ve issued 20 third-party information notices.

Current trends are included along with other activity that has taken place plus information on the type of calls and texts being received.

 15:30 | Tuesday 14 April

Today the Information Rights Tribunal overturned an appeal by Reactiv Media Limited against one of our civil monetary penalties. In fact the Tribunal increased the penalty from £50,000 to £75,000.

In July last year we served Reactiv Media Limited with the fine for making unsolicited marketing calls to people on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). The TPS had received 481 complaints and we had received 120.

The Tribunal not only agreed with us that the fine was justified but stated there was evidence that showed ‘a culture of denial and minimisation of the breach, weak governance of the company and a tendency to blame others rather than accept responsibility’. Due to the case’s aggravating factors the Tribunal was satisfied the larger penalty was more appropriate.

14:30 | Friday 10 April

We met yesterday to discuss planning for the London Action Plan (LAP) conference, which will be held in Dublin from Monday 8 June. LAP is an international group of regulators and other agencies who have the joint aim of tackling nuisance calls. The ICO is part of the Secretariat for the LAP, and is therefore heavily involved in planning and preparation for the conference. We’ll be presenting at a number of seminars throughout the conference week, including our approach in the UK combating nuisance calls, how we work with our partners and new ideas and best practice. 

16:00 | Tuesday 7 April

Today we are launching a mystery shopping exercise to identify lead generation and direct marketing organisations who use consumer data to make unsolicited marketing calls or texts.

We’ll be signing up to websites, reviewing privacy policies and seeing whether any of the information we place is then used to make nuisance calls or send spam texts. The aim is to identify any businesses in breach of the PECR regulations, running alongside our other investigations generated from people reporting their concerns to us.

On the subject of people reporting their concerns to us, March’s figures are in and show 15,434 reports about nuisance calls and texts. That’s our highest total since last November. We know that rises in complaints reporting follows publicity around enforcement action, and this rise is likely to be due to the flurry of publicity towards the end of the month, including the change in the law and our raid on the south coast. Of the reports, accident claims companies received the highest number of complaints from members of the public. 

11:30 | Thursday 2 April

Most of the newspapers have covered yesterday’s fine of £80,000 issued to Direct Assist Ltd which was the latest enforcement action around nuisance calls. The company had been phoning people who were already registered with the Telephone Preference Service and had not given consent for the personal injury claims management company to make calls asking them to make a claim.

One household reported 470 calls with others reporting being bombarded with calls despite repeatedly asking the company to leave them alone.

Unfortunately just after our fine was issued we had word from HMRC that they were forcing the company into liquidation. We can register as an unsecured creditor in the hope that the fine will eventually get paid but that’s no guarantee the money will ever be paid.

When deciding on fines, our office has to consider the financial position of the company involved. Although we need to hold unscrupulous companies to account, the law says we can’t make a company bankrupt causing it to close. Direct Assist obviously had other problems that have coincided with our penalty.

The main thing is that these nuisance calls should now stop, but the result is frustrating for our enforcement team. It’s a challenge we often face with companies involved in unsolicited marketing where companies are shut down but sometimes pop up a few months later.

12:30 | Wednesday 1 April

To help us alert the public to specific cold call threats we have reviewed how we report our work on nuisance calls. Up to now, we have been publishing quarterly updates but starting this month we will be publishing our figures and activity monthly on our website. These regular updates will allow us to raise issues more often and give people more opportunities to take action to protect themselves from nuisance callers.

16:30 | Monday 30 March

This morning’s Daily Mail front page report into the sale of people’s pension details has raised concerns for our office and we have launched an immediate investigation into how people’s personal pension information can be traded as well as looking at the company mentioned in the article.

The story has generated a massive amount of media interest and in an attempt to highlight the issues of concern to the public, the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has appeared on all the major news channels with a warning not to make any major financial pension decisions based on a phone call.

Christopher Graham is interviewed by Sky News

Our office will be liaising with the Pensions Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority and the police around the investigation.

The revelations come just a week before major changes from the Government which determine how people can use their pension savings in the future and we are preparing for a potential spike in calls and texts linked to these changes.

16:00 | 26 March 2015

The general election is only two months away. Today we met as a team to discuss our guidance in advance of the forthcoming general election.

We continue to provide advice on the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations to prospective candidates in advance of the upcoming election.

15:15 | 26 March 2015

Today we met Professor Megumi Uesugi of Aichi University in Japan, to discuss the legal requirements in the UK around the prevention of unsolicited marketing calls and texts. The professor was keen to learn about the legislative protections in place within the UK, how the law had developed, the ICO’s role as regulator and our approach to enforcement action. Nuisance calls and texts are a problem that many countries are tackling at the moment and we are happy to explain our work to others.

15:30 | 24 March 2015

Today we ordered a lead generation company, Sweet Media Limited, to stop sending nuisance texts.

The action comes after a raid we carried out in Wolverhampton last year where we seized SIM cards and computer equipment. The texts were on a range of subjects including debt management, payday loans, pension reviews, mortgage mis-selling, gambling and credit cards. Effectively offering people ways to get into debt and then ways to pay to get out of it again!

From the raid through our investigation to this enforcement notice this action is a great example of the comprehensive work we are doing to tackle nuisance calls.

12:00 | Friday 20 March

Today we have received the latest complaints figures from the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) for February. The figures provide details of the companies who have breached the PECR by making calls to individuals who have registered their number with the TPS.

Each month we analyse the figures and write to any new entrants in the top 20 most complained about companies informing them that we are aware that they have been making nuisance calls. They are required to provide further information explaining the action they will now take to improve their compliance. We will then review their response and decide whether any further action is required, including whether we need to issue the company with a penalty of up to £500,000. The information is also used to support action against companies our office is already aware of.

Registering your number with the TPS is completely free and will reduce the number of calls you receive. Details of how you can register can be found on the TPS website.

17:00 | Thursday 19 March

We were pleased to hear that yesterday’s budget included the promise to invest £3.5m in exploring ways to protect vulnerable people from nuisance calls. The government is due to spend the money on the development and provision of innovative call-blocking technology, and a campaign to raise public awareness about how to reduce and report nuisance calls, including reporting calls to our office using our online reporting tool.

Nuisance calls affect the vast majority of people in the UK to a greater or lesser extent. It is quite right that the government considers this issue as a priority in the years ahead, and particularly for the most vulnerable sections of society. Any help they can provide to support our efforts to tackle the problem is to be welcomed.

16:30 | Wednesday 18 March

Today we have launched our ICO Corporate Plan setting out our priorities for the next three years. The plan confirms that our work to tackle nuisance calls and spam texts remains a priority for our office. This work will continue to involve issuing penalties to companies who commit serious breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). We are also exploring ways to make it even easier for people to report details of the nuisance calls and messages they are receiving so we can identify and take action against the companies responsible.

14:00 | Wednesday 18 March

Yesterday, we met with representatives from Ofcom, the Ministry of Justice’s Claims Management Regulation Unit, Citizen’s Advice, the Market Research Society, the Gambling Commission, Which? and industry representatives. We also had the US Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission dial into the meeting. The FTC and the Canadian Commission shared learning about their approach to regulation and successful outcomes.   

The group discussed delivery in relation to our regulatory and awareness work; progress on our research in understanding the ‘data cycle’ - how people’s personal data is acquired and used - incorporating what we know already, what we have learnt and responding to changes in the marketplace and the direct marketing industry. Finally, we also discussed the Government’s announcement that it is planning to change the law in order to make it easier for the ICO to issue penalties. We agreed it was important to continue sharing intelligence across regulators and agencies to support this work. 

10:00 | Tuesday 17 March

Our latest enforcement notice has been delivered by a member of the team at our Cardiff office to a financial call centre in Swansea ordering the company to stop sending spam texts relating to pension reviews.

Over three months 659 complaints were made to us and the 7726 spam text reporting service, from people who had received unsolicited marketing text messages asking them to reply to the texts.

The Pensions Regulator has also warned people about the dangers of responding to such messages.

17:00 | Monday 16 March

We’re often asked about the link between marketing messages and calls and lead generation. It’s an area we’re dedicating a lot of time to, and tomorrow we’re meeting with other key partners to discuss the issue. Named ‘Operation Linden’, these regular meetings see us working with other regulators, consumer groups, trade associations and industry. The group shares intelligence and co-ordinates activity: the Ministry of Justice’s Claims Management Regulation Unit and Trading Standards both accompanied us on our recent Brighton raid, for instance.

For anyone less familiar with the basics of why lead generation is such a key driver of nuisance calls and texts, this infographic we produced might prove useful reading:

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15:30 | Monday 16 March

The PECR enforcement team are now going through some of the evidence collected during the Brighton raid. The information will help determine the appropriate enforcement action.

Evidence collected during the Brighton raid

15:00 | Friday 13 March

The media showed a huge interest in yesterday’s raid with the news featuring as the top story on last night’s evening news bulletin on BBC South East Today and in today’s editions of the Daily Mail and the Brighton newspaper The Argus:

'Six million nuisance calls every day from just ONE firm: Company that held 90 million numbers is raided by watchdog'

– The Daily Mail

'Call centre believed to make four to six million recorded telephone calls a day raided in ‘nuisance call’ probe'

– The Argus

It’s important that the public know about the steps we’re taking to address nuisance calls, by publicising the raid our work reaches a wide audience who could have been affected by spam texts and nuisance calls.

The investigation leading up to yesterday’s raid has been going on since October 2014 and could determine whether we issue an enforcement notice or a fine.

11:30 | Thursday 12 March

A warrant was issued earlier in the week for us to raid a PPI call centre in Brighton to gather evidence for one of our investigations into nuisance calls.

Working with the MoJ Claims Management Regulation Unit and Brighton and Hove Trading Standards, we’re currently still on the premises looking for evidence of personal data being bought or sold, databases of personal information and anything that shows a deliberate breach of PECR regulations.

16:45 | Wednesday 11 March 2015

We hope to be able to announce some interesting enforcement action later this week as part of the many cases we are investigating.

In the meantime here’s a snapshot of what we are looking into at the moment:

46 active cases are under investigation

10 companies are being monitored

1 (Preliminary) Enforcement Notice has been issued

1 Information Notice has been issued

25 Third party Information Notices have been issued.

17:00 | Tuesday 10 March 2015

Spam text messages

Today we’ve taken the first steps towards issuing a preliminary enforcement notice, which is an initial warning, to an organisation sending out spam text messages in relation to the mis-selling of packaged bank accounts.

Our Director of Data Protection, David Smith will be responsible for signing the preliminary notice before it is sent out to the company.

The company can come back with representations in their defence before an official notice is issued.

15:45 | Monday 9 March 2015

February’s figures are out showing 11,831 reports to the ICO about nuisance calls and texts.

Top three subjects for last month are showing as:

Accident claims – 2318 reports

PPI – 1801 reports

Energy – 705 reports

12:00 | Monday 9 March 2015

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has recently announced that from April changes in the law will make it much easier for the ICO to enforce the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. Speaking at our annual conference last Monday, Simon Hughes MP welcomed the changes saying the Government takes the issue seriously and will make every effort to protect individuals’ rights and tackle the menace of nuisance calls.

It means a busy month for the ICO and it seemed an ideal time to launch our new blog to highlight the work we do…

So from 6 April the way we can take action against companies who are involved in sending spam calls and texts will become a lot more straightforward, hopefully resulting in more companies being brought to account.

Whether we’re investigating a case, issuing a warning or deciding on the size of fine a company should receive, our blog will give you more of an insight into our daily work that aims to stop some of the spam calls and texts that blight people’s lives.