Loan firm pays the price for unlawful Covid campaign

corona1Anyone still thinking of exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to unleash a barrage of marketing beware; stray the wrong side of the law and you could well end up getting clobbered.

That is the stark warning from the Information Commissioner’s Office following its latest enforcement action, which has seen Lincolnshire mortgage broker OSL Financial Consultancy whacked for £50,000 for illegally sending 174,342 nuisance marketing texts.

The Barnetby le Wold-based loans broker, trading as MortgageKey, came to the attention of the ICO as part of a probe into firms seeking to take advantage of coronavirus. Between March and June 2020, the ICO identified a number of complaints about OSL that had been sent to the 7726 spam text reporting service.

The complaints related to nuisance text messages received by the public about a drop in Buy to Let mortgage interest rates. The ICO investigation found 54,205 nuisance texts were sent during the pandemic, with 120,137 nuisance texts sent in the months earlier. Throughout the ICO’s enquiries, OSL relied on the previous consent it said it had obtained from its customers.

The ICO’s investigation found OSL had gathered personal data from people who had contacted them via their website to obtain a quote and then used the data for marketing purposes.

However, consumers were not offered the option to opt in or out of marketing, leading the ICO to conclude that valid consent had not been obtained, in breach of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

OSL is the third business to have been hauled up by the ICO for rogue activity during the global pandemic.

London-based software consultancy Studios MG, which switched to PPE and tried to flog face masks through unlawful emails, was hit for £40,000 in October. Meanwhile, a Bristol based firm, Digital Growth Experts, which tried to sell a hand sanitising product through a barrage of spam texts was issued with a £60,000 fine.

ICO investigations group manager Natasha Longson said: “The rules about electronic marketing are simple and clear. Consent must be freely given and it must not be a condition of receiving a service.

“Nuisance texts, calls and emails are an unwanted and annoying intrusion into people’s lives and we will continue to take action against those that do not comply with the law.”

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