The ICO says it has written to both individuals to confirm that it intends to issue both of them with a monetary penalty for breaching the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which regulate electronic marketing.
Both recipients have 28 days to respond and prove that they were complying with the law otherwise final penalty notices will be issued.
The proposed fines are the culmination of months of work – and what critics have claimed has been ICO inaction – against the menace of SMS spammers, who bombard consumers with ambulance-chasing texts.
It is believed that millions of messages are sent each day to UK mobile users to harvest their numbers, selling them on to claims marketing companies. Most messages include wording such as “Our records indicate that you may be entitled to compensation of £3750 for the accident you had”.
Late last year the ICO’s clampdown was branded ‘pathetic’, after the regulator claimed to have made ‘significant progress’ only to admit it had yet to catch – or stop – a single perpetrator.
In March, however, the ICO confiscated 20,000 SIMs in its second raid in three months. The raid, on a Manchester firm, followed a swoop in December which led to the same number of SIMs being taken out of service.
Both businesses were accused of operating ‘SIM banks’ that automatically send large numbers of messages from unregistered pay-as-you-go SIM cards. However, it is not yet known whether the people behind these firms are the two marketers facing the fines announced today.
Director of operations Simon Entwisle said: “The public have told us that they are increasingly concerned about the illegal marketing texts and calls. These are often made by rogue companies, claiming to offer pay outs for accidents a person has never had or PPI claims that they are not necessarily entitled to.
“In the past six months we have received almost 30,000 complaints and we are working to link these numbers to companies with a view to possible enforcement action.
“While companies can phone people to sell them the latest product or service, the law states that individuals should not receive unsolicited texts or automated marketing calls unless they have given their permission. We know many companies are failing to do this and two individuals responsible for sending millions of illegal marketing messages are now facing six figure penalties unless they can prove otherwise.
“It would be inappropriate to provide further comment until both individuals have had the opportunity to reply, but we are already working to identify other individuals and companies involved in these unlawful practices.”
UPDATE: The DMA – a long-term critic of the ICO’s inaction on text spammers – has welcome the move.
Mike Lordan, chief of operations, said: “The DMA has long been urging the ICO to take action again the problem of SMS spam, so we’re very pleased to see the first enforcement against two suspected SMS spammers. This is timely given the volume of complaints that consumers are making from receiving text spam continues to rise every month.
“Issuing huge fines sends out a strong message, so we look forward to seeing the ICO take more enforcement action to clamp down on this criminal activity. The regulator must continue to take a firm line to protect consumers and the legitimate mobile marketing industry alike.”
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