A Brighton company which was incorporated in July 2020 with just one share worth £1 has been whacked with a £230,000 fine for making more than a million “predatory” marketing calls to people registered on the Telephone Preference Service.
The ease with which sole director Belal Ali, 36, registered the company – Apex Assure – on the second floor of an office at 127 Gloucester Road, Brighton (pictured), exposes just how simple it is to set up a rogue business and start bombarding consumers with unwanted telemarketing calls from a small office in the backstreets.
In fact, according to Companies House, the firm has failed to file any accounts in two years in operation. Instead, it seems, Ali’s firm was far too busy cold-calling people on the TPS and trying to flog them white goods insurance.
Apex first came to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office during a meeting with Brighton Trading Standards, which was investigating breaches of consumer protection legislation by several companies based in Brighton that operated call centres from serviced office space.
Trading Standards informed the ICO that it was to carry out a warrant against Apex in May 2021 and subsequently arranged for ICO officers to be in attendance.
Entry to the premises was successful and the ICO obtained information including the identification of trading names used by Apex during its calls, links between Apex and several other companies, call scripts, and confirmation of the service provider the call centre staff used to make outgoing calls from the premises.
Following its own investigation, the ICO discovered that 1,090,881 calls were made to individuals registered with the TPS, and, although it could not confirm how many had connected, it had received 122 complaints from people who said the calls were misleading and aggressive.
One said: “[They were] trying very hard to sell my vulnerable elderly father insurance for his washing machine and white goods. It is a completely unsolicited and very annoying sales call. I registered him [on the TPS] him to give him some peace but lately he has had a continuous and determined phone sales, about three a day. It is almost as if someone has sold his phone number as an easy sales target.
“It made me furious because he was expecting an important call, and this call not only prevented a vital call to the family from getting through, it caused him to struggle to the phone just so they could cause annoyance. They should be outright ashamed of themselves.”
Last year, the Financial Conduct Authority also issued a warning about the business. It said: “We believe this firm may be providing financial services or products in the UK without our authorisation.”
The FCA said that people “should be wary of dealing with this unauthorised firm” and added: “Almost all firms and individuals offering, promoting or selling financial services or products in the UK have to be authorised or registered by us.
“This firm is not authorised by us and is targeting people in the UK. You will not have access to the Financial Ombudsman Service or be protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so you are unlikely to get your money back if things go wrong.”
Fining the firm £230,000, the ICO said: “The complaints demonstrate that the calls in this case were aggressive and misleading in nature. This case involved deliberate action for financial or personal gain. The purpose of this marketing was to generate cashflow and profit for Apex and associated individuals.
“There has been no engagement with the Commissioner’s investigation by Apex or the individuals concerned. The Commissioner has considered that there are no mitigating factors to take into account in this case.”
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