Three more fingered as ICO stays focused on rogues

mobile.newThere might be changing of the guard looming at the Information Commissioner’s Office – in both personnel and direction – but the regulator remains on the warpath against the marketing rogues with more firms fingered and fined for unleashing unlawful text message and telemarketing campaigns.

Two separate companies that sent rogue texts during the pandemic have been fined a total of £330,000, with messages from one of them prompting record complaints, while a third has been hit for £50,000 over a 2019 breach of the law.

First up Leads Works, based in Three Bridges near Crawley, West Sussex, which has been battered with a £250,000 penalty for sending more than 2.6 million illegal text messages to consumers without their valid consent.

The messages, sent between May and 16 June 26 2020, tried to hoodwink consumers into handing over their data by using established brands as a front. One message read: ““In lockdown and want to earn extra cash? Avon is now FULLY ONLINE, FREE to do and paid weekly. Reply with your name for info. 18+ only. Text STOP to opt out.”

The ICO’s investigation found Avon did not send or instigate the text messages, which resulted in over 10,000 complaints.

Leads Works, run by sole director Adam Zachary Booth, was incorporated in July 2017. According to Companies House, the firm is still active but its website has now been taken down. The company has also been issued with an enforcement notice by the ICO, ordering it to stop sending unlawful direct marketing messages.

ICO head of investigations Andy Curry said: “The number of complaints we’ve had from members of the public who have been affected in this case far exceeds any we’ve seen to date – showing just how annoyed and frustrated people were by these messages.

“Leads Works sought to capitalise on the pandemic by sending a significant number of unwanted text messages relating to, and directly referencing, lockdown when the population was at its most vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, the regulator has also fined Manchester company Valca Vehicle £80,000 for sending illegal marketing messages during the pandemic.

The company, whose sole remaining director is Darren Robson, specialises in lead generation for financial products, was found to have sent more than 95,000 text messages from June to July 2020 without the recipients’ permission, which is against the law.

The messages referenced the pandemic and were designed to exploit individuals whose finances have been adversely affected. This, in the ICO’s view, was a clear attempt to capitalise on, and profiteer from, the health crisis.

The texts read: “Affected by Covid? Struggling with finances? lost job /furloughed? Were here to help! Gvnmnt backed support see if you qualify”

The company, which is currently operating as ‘Debtquity’ to generate leads for debt management products, has also been issued with an enforcement notice by the ICO, ordering it to stop sending the messages. Time is running out, however, as a “proposal to strike off” notice has already been issued.

Curry added: ”Not only was the company breaking the law by sending unwanted marketing messages, they were trying to take advantage of people who may be financially vulnerable due to the health crisis.

“We have issued a number of fines recently to companies that have used the pandemic as a way of making money. Businesses that think they can exploit the pandemic in this way should think again. We can fine you and take action to recover that fine where necessary.”

Finally, Muscle Foods of Poole in Dorset has been fined £50,000 for sending approximately tens of millions of both marketing emails and SMS messages to individuals without their consent, over a period of seven months.

Between March 25 2019 and October 25 2019 MFL transmitted 135,651,627 emails and 6,354,426 texts. However, the firm did not have the necessary consent required nor was it able to prove it had the ‘soft opt-in’ provided by regulation.

However, MFL has continued to send marketing emails to individuals without any apparent remedial measures having been taken to prevent further contraventions. This is evidenced by a further 467 complaints made about marketing emails and SMS sent by MFL.

The company has now been issued with an enforcement notice to stop sending messages.

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