Crackdown, collaboration and court action: how we’re working to stop nuisance calls

By Andy Curry, Enforcement Group Manager.

nuisance-calls-scissorsFew things annoy people as much as a nuisance call. It seems most people have a story to tell about their latest experience of picking up the phone to an unwanted caller and how imaginatively they handled it.

Last year, 166,665 people were driven to complain to us because they’d had enough of unsolicited cold calls.

The people behind these calls cause upset, alarm and distress and, at worst, they prey on vulnerable people who may fall victim to a hard sell or scam that leaves them embarrassed and out of pocket.

Here at the ICO, we’re in the business of cracking down on the rogue callers. For the record, in 2015 we fined ten companies a total of nearly £1 million. And before the financial year is over, we expect to dish out another £1 million.

Fining the culprits hits the headlines and sends a clear message that we’re prepared to come down hard on the law breakers.

But our ultimate aim is simpler – we just want to stop the nuisance.

The law allows for a number of approaches when it comes to shutting down cold callers who disregard the rules.

We can’t always do it on our own and we work closely with other regulators who share our objectives like Ofcom and the government’s Claims Management Regulator.

Last year we teamed up with Gateshead Trading Standards. We shared intelligence that allowed them to prosecute E-Green Energy for making persistent, unwanted phone calls that misled people into believing they’d get a free boiler.

The courts fined E-Green £8,000 for the calls and the three directors £6,000 for the scam.

We’ve recently provided evidence to another five trading standards teams around the country. By working together, we create a more comprehensive picture of unlawful activity, which can be dealt with accordingly.

Sometimes it’s good to think outside the box. If a company’s breaking the law by making nuisance calls or sending spam texts, chances are they have little regard for other laws either.

So one of the first things we do when we start investigating a company suspected of nuisance calling is check our register. By law, all data controllers are required to register with us. Notifying the ICO promotes openness and transparency – people should know what personal data is being used by organisations and how they use it. Failure to register can result in a day out in court for the company director.

Taking a company to court for non-notification may not stop them making calls, but it does make life difficult and, of course, it’s another way of hitting them in the pocket.

In November, Dudley Magistrates Court fined Direct Security Marketing Ltd and its company director Antonio Pardo a total of £1,184 for failing to register with the ICO.

That’s on top of the £70,000 fine we imposed on the company earlier this week for making automated nuisance calls.

Sometimes, companies refuse to co-operate with us. They ignore our requests for information perhaps thinking we’ll eventually get bored and go away. Far from it.

We have the power to issue an ‘information notice’ compelling companies to answer our questions. If they don’t, we can take them to court. That’s what we did in October 2015 when Nuisance Call Blocker Ltd paid no attention to our request for information.

The court fined them £2,500 and six weeks later we fined them £90,000 for making unsolicited marketing calls.

We’re even on the case of companies based elsewhere in the world. If you get a spam text or unwanted cold call and we trace it to a country in the European Economic Area, we’ll pass on any evidence we have to the regulator in that country.

So far this year we’ve made five referrals relating to nuisance calls or data breach investigations and we know our European counterparts are working hard to track down the law breakers and stop them making nuisance calls to people back here in Britain.

But by far our greatest allies in the war against the nuisance callers are the people who report them to us. Together, we stand a greater chance of defeating them. Report your concerns via our website.

andy-curryAndy Curry heads the team that enforces the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. As well as cracking down on nuisance calls, his team investigates companies behind unwanted texts and emails and takes action when needed.

Last updated 19/2/2016 12:00

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