Two men have been fined £440,000 for sending thousands of spam text messages as the authorities look to crack down on the illegal trade.
An 18-month investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish were sending unsolicited text messages to promote compensation claims for personal injury or the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI).
The pair, who jointly ran marketing company Tetrus Telecoms, sent the messages without identifying themselves or obtaining the consent of the recipients– both of which are legal requirements. They then used the replies to generate leads which were sold on to other businesses in order to make a profit.
It represents the first time that the ICO has used its powers to levy a fine for such a case, with the body looking to eliminate the practice of spamming as it has become an increasingly prevalent problem in recent years.
Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, 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.
“The two individuals we have served penalties on today made a substantial profit from the sale of personal information. They knew they were breaking the law and the trail of evidence uncovered by my office highlights the scale of their operations.”
Evidence obtained by the ICO showed that Tetrus Telecoms were sending up to 840,000 messages a day from their offices in Greater Manchester, helping to bring in revenue of between £7,000 and £8,000. Many mobile phone users in the UK will recognise the sort of texts that the firm was sending out, with a typical example reading: ‘CLAIM TODAY, you may be entitled to £3500 for the accident you had. To CLAIM free reply CLAIM to this message. To opt out text STOP’.
The pair used unregistered pay-as-you go SIM cards, which would be inserted in a card reader connected to a computer, to send the text messages until the card ran out of credit.
Mr Niebel was fined £300,000 and Mr McNeish had to pay for £140,000 for breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, which insists that SMS marketing firms must offer recipients the chance to opt out of receiving content and reveal who they are in the message.
Spamming is becoming an increasingly significant problem, with a recent report conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Cloudmark revealing that 64 per cent of texters in the UK have received an unsolicited SMS message, with respondents shown to have different responses to these texts.
Nearly two thirds of British mobile phone users would ignore a spam text, with just ten per cent opting to report spam to their network operator. Furthermore, 31 per cent of respondents would text STOP in an attempt to prevent further texts being sent.
The information commissioner added: “Our message to the public is that if you don’t know who sent you a text message then do not respond.”
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