Two men who owned a marketing company have been fined £440,000 by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office for sending millions of unlawful spam text messages. It’s the first time the ICO has imposed this type of penalty for a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations since it was given these powers in January.
The case started in May 2011 when the ICO heard that a company called Tetrus Telecoms had been sending unsolicited text messages. Not only did they not have the consent of the recipient, they also failed to identify the sender; both are legal requirements under the PECR.
Any responses to the SMS messages, which encouraged customers to claim compensation for accidents and bank loans, were then sold to other companies for a profit.
Accordiong to the ICO, Tetrus Telecoms was generating £7,000 to £8,000 per day by using ‘pay as you go’ SIM cards to send hundreds of thousands of illegal text messages. Christopher Niebel, one of the company’s owners, has been ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000. Co-owner Gary McNeish, who didn’t benefit from the company as much as Mr Niebel, has been fined £140,000.
Christopher Graham, Information Commissioner, said “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. We will continue to work with the relevant authorities as well as the network providers to ensure companies like this are punished. We’re also working with the Ministry of Justice to target claims management companies who purchase this information breaching the industry regulations, the Data Protection Act, as well as electronic marketing regulations. Our message to the public is that if you don’t know who sent you a text message then do not respond, otherwise your details may be used to generate profits for these unscrupulous individuals. Together we can put an end to this unlawful industry that continues to plague our daily lives.”
A survey set up on the ICO website in March 2012 has already received over 60,000 responses about unwanted calls and SMS text messages.
Both of the company owners fined today are also facing prosecution for failing to advise the ICO that Tetrus Telecoms was processing personal information. Three other companies are currently being investigated for breaching the PECR.