A company director who blatantly ignored warnings about his telemarketing activities to unleash a barrage of illegal automated calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service – many in the early hours of the morning – has been slapped with a six year ban.
Shaun Harkin, 48, from Coventry, was the sole director of Easyleads, a company which generated sales leads for other businesses through telemarketing, advertising its clients’ services and products.
The Information Commissioner’s Office first received complaints about automated calls from numbers used by Easyleads between October 2015 and July 2016.
However, Harkin had previous; the ICO had already warned him about the activities of other businesses he owned, Leads 4 U and Leads Supplier UK. Both businesses were formed in July 2013 but dissolved in November 2015, just weeks after Harkin set up Easyleads.
The ICO then issued a new warning to Harkin in January 2017 of its investigation into the fresh complaints over Easyleads. However, Harkin carried on regardless and launched a new campaign using automated calls. This resulted in the ICO receiving further complaints about Easyleads’ sales practices between January and June 2017.
By September 2017, the ICO notified Harkin it was issuing a £260,000 fine against Easyleads for making unsolicited marketing calls to people without their specific consent and failing to include a company name and contact details in the recorded message.
However, when Easyleads failed to pay the debt and then tried to dissolve the business, the ICO intervened in February 2018 and won a court order of its own to shut down Easyleads in March 2018. Further investigations by the Insolvency Service found that the company had made around 16 million automated marketing calls to members of the public.
And more than 550 complaints were made to the ICO about Easyleads. Many were from people who said they received multiple calls, while others complained about being called in the early hours of the morning and in particular, there was a spike of calls over the May 2017 Bank Holiday weekend.
In June 2018, the Secretary of State accepted a disqualification undertaking from Harkin in which he did not dispute that between October 2015 and June 2017 he failed to ensure that Easyleads complied with its statutory obligations to prevent calls being made to people registered with the TPS.
Effective from July 13 2018, Harkin is now banned from directly or indirectly becoming involved, without the permission of the court, in the promotion, formation or management of a company for six years.
Andy Curry, who headed up the ICO investigation team, said: “Easyleads plagued people with calls and we brought them to account by fining them £260,000. When they failed to pay, we refused to give up.
“Now Shaun Harkin has been put out of action for six years. We still have work to do but this ban sends a message to others that they will not get away with making nuisance calls.”
Insolvency Service chief investigator David Brooks said: “Telephone marketing is a legitimate business endeavor but there are strict rules in place to protect those who do not want to be disturbed by nuisance sales calls.
“This is a serious case where Shaun Harkin knowingly allowed the company to make unsolicited calls contrary to regulations and caused a great deal of distress for many people. The six-year ban reflects the seriousness of these actions and together with the ICO, we want to ensure this serves as a warning to others that we will seek redress should your conduct fall below accepted commercial standards.”
So far this year, four directors of telemarketing firms – Allan Brown and Kenneth Haswell of Nevis Home Improvements, Leah Masters of Cold Call Elimination and Tony Abbott of Reactiv Media – have been barred for a total of 24 years. Meanwhile, in June, DM agency rogue Chris Stoddard was banned from being a company director for 9½ years.
Following a long campaign, supported by Decision Marketing, the Government is currently consulting over legislation to make directors personally liable for fines of up to £500,000.
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