The Information Commissioner’s Office has unleashed an unprecedented attack on companies supplying and using illegal customer data by launching a mystery shopping exercise against those it suspects of wrong-doing.
The crackdown, being carried out by its Enforcement Group, is the first time the regulator has proactively hunted businesses – many of whom might be carrying out the activity unwittingly. Due to a lack of resources, it usually waits until complaints are made before it acts.
In a blog post, Enforcement Group manager Andy Curry said the ICO wanted to identify lead generation and direct marketing organisations who use consumer data to make unsolicited marketing calls or texts.
He added: “We’ll be signing up to websites, reviewing privacy policies and seeing whether any of the information we place is then used to make nuisance calls or send spam texts.
“The aim is to identify any businesses in breach of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations, running alongside our other investigations generated from people reporting their concerns to us.”
The move is understood to have been triggered by recommendations made by the Nuisance Calls & Text taskforce, which identified the data industry as the source of the nuisance call problem.
It also follows Daily Mail claims that many big brand companies and websites are illegally collecting and selling customer information to other businesses, most notably companies trying to tap into the shake-up of the pensions market.
Meanwhile the head of the Telephone Preference Service recently claimed legitimate brands are also unwittingly carrying out a high percentage of nuisance calls as most do not check whether the data they buy is obtained within the law.
To make matters worse, the ICO has said March’s figures show 15,434 reports about nuisance calls and texts – the highest total since last November.
However, Curry stressed: “We know rises in complaints reporting follow publicity around enforcement action, and this rise is likely to be due to the flurry of publicity towards the end of the month, including the change in the law and our raid on the south coast. Of the reports, accident claims companies received the highest number of complaints from members of the public.”
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