Bully-boy firms hit where it hurts for calling vulnerable

caller2Companies that persist in targeting vulnerable consumers have been warned they face being named and shamed – and hit where it hurts – after five firms responsible for over 750,000 unwanted marketing calls have been whacked with fines totalling £405,000.

The penalties are just the latest issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which while facing criticism of its other regulatory enforcement, has been hard on the case of so-called nuisance callers for years.

After receiving complaints from the public and information from partner organisations, including Action Fraud, Trading Standards, consumer group Which? and the call blocker provider TrueCall, the ICO began investigating a number of companies that were calling people to sell insurance products or services for white goods and other large household appliances, such as televisions, washing machines and fridges.

Many of the complainants said the people receiving the calls were vulnerable, with some having been suffering with dementia or other underlying health conditions.

The ICO investigation found that these companies were deliberately targeting older people by buying marketing data lists from third parties, specifically asking for personal information about people who are aged 60 and over, homeowners and with landline numbers.

One complainant said: “Cold call – to persuade an elderly vulnerable person with old age memory loss to take out unneeded insurance on equipment – and then immediately debit her account. My mother-in-law (the call recipient) is unable to arrange her own affairs, the attitude when we called to insist the transaction was cancelled was quite rude.”

A second said: “It has made me really ill, they keep calling and have taken money from me. I am an elderly woman.” And a third added: “The caller was threatening and coercive and put me in a very difficult situation which I am now having to try and get out of.”

The ICO said the evidence gathered suggests these companies were either working together or using the same marketing list to target these people. This resulted in some people losing thousands of pounds for white goods insurance and servicing which the companies often knew they did not need.

The five firms have been found in breach of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which cover the rules for organisations wishing to make live direct marketing telephone calls.

Domestic Support based in Littlehampton, West Sussex, made 69,133 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service between January 2020 and July 2020. Complaints received suggest that DSL was providing different trading names when calling people, which is also unlawful. The company has been fined £80,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Home Sure Solutions, based in Hove, East Sussex, made 229,483 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and September 2020.

The ICO investigation found that HSSL purchased personal data from a third-party provider, which was ambiguous as to the source of the data, without carrying out due diligence.

HSSL was also quoted a price by a third-party provider for personal information of UK homeowners, aged 60+ and with landline numbers, which shows they were deliberately targeting older people. The company has been fined £100,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Seaview Brokers, based in Chichester, West Sussex, made 4,737 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS in June 2020. Seaview purchased the data book from another company without reviewing evidence of consent for direct marketing or carrying out due diligence. The company has been fined £15,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

UK Appliance Cover, based in London, made 39,167 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between June 2020 and December 2020. Complaints received suggest that the company was targeting vulnerable people for financial gain.

The ICO found no evidence that the services advertised through the nuisance calls were actually being provided. Complainants also said the callers were aggressive and threatening. The company has been fined £100,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Finally, UK Platinum Home Care Services, based in London, made 412,556 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and October 2020, resulting in more than 50 complaints being made.

The company purchased personal data from third-party providers, with contracts and invoices showing the company requested the contact details of people aged 60-80, homeowners and landline numbers. UK Platinum Home Care Services has been fined £110,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Information Commissioner John Edwards said: “These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain.

“It is clear from the complaints we received that people felt frightened and distressed by the aggressive tactics of these companies, sometimes giving their financial details just so they could hang up the phone. This is unacceptable and clearly exploitative. It is only right that we take tough and prompt action to punish those companies responsible using our full powers.

“Companies making similar nuisance calls and causing harm to people can expect a strong response from my office. I encourage anyone who is being pestered by other rogue operators, or knows a family member or friend who is, to report them to the ICO and we will step in to protect the public from these invasive calls.”

The ICO says it is continuing to investigate a number of other companies – in addition to the five – that appear to be operating in the same way.

Meanwhile, the regulator reinforced its commitment to protect the public and maintain a level playing field that supports the legitimate UK marketing industry and identifies and tackles rogue companies that misuse peoples’ information.

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