The data watchdog is hoping it will be a case of second time lucky after whacking payday loans firm First Financial with a £175,000 monetary penalty for sending millions of unlawful spam texts, following more than 4,000 complaints from the public.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is still reeling from having its first major spam text fine – of £440,000 against Tetrus Telecoms – overturned in the High Court earlier this year, and will have its fingers crossed that this penalty does not go the same way.
The First Financial spam texts were sent using unregistered SIM cards, a common method used to avoid detection, but the content of the message was similar on each occasion and referred recipients to a website belonging to firstpaydayloanuk.co.uk, which is a trading name used by First Financial.
The company’s advertising campaign – which tried to hoodwink consumers by appearing to be a text from an old friend – was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in June.
Information Commissioner’s Office director of operations Simon Entwisle said: “People are fed up with this menace and they are not willing to be bombarded with nuisance calls and text messages at all times of the day trying to get them to sign up to high interest loans. The fact that this individual tried to distance himself from the unlawful activities of his company shows the kind of individuals we’re dealing with here.”
“We will continue to target these companies that continue to blight the daily lives of people across the UK. We are also currently speaking with the government to get the legal bar lowered, allowing us to take action at a much earlier stage.”
The penalty comes after the company’s former sole director, Hamed Shabani, was prosecuted on 8 October 2013 after he failed to notify First Financial’s processing of personal information with the ICO. This is a legal requirement under the Data Protection Act. Shabani was fined £1,180.66, despite trying to claim he had no affiliation with the company.
Mike Lordan, chief of operations for the DMA, commented: “We’re pleased that the ICO has taken punitive action against another SMS spammer. It’s imperative that the ICO continues to take a firm line on this issue. Text spam causes inconvenience and distress to millions of people and harms the legitimate mobile marketing industry, which is worth £135m a year to the UK economy. We hope that the ICO takes similar enforcement action against other SMS spammers, as well as taking punitive action against those found to be breaking TPS cold calling regulations.”
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