War on text spam branded ‘pathetic’

The data watchdog’s war on text spam has been branded ‘pathetic’ after the regulator claimed to have made ‘significant progress’ only to admit it has yet to catch – or stop – a single perpetrator.
The Information Commissioner’s Office investigation into accident claim text spam and other similar messages began in early 2011. The ICO has since been working with other bodies, including the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom, the OFT, the DMA and mobile phone networks to try to identify the people behind them.
In October, the DMA is urged the ICO to get tough on text spam, claiming it is failing to use the powers it already holds to enforce a crackdown.
Enquiries established early on that the messages are being sent from unregistered pay-as-you-go SIM cards. Telecommunications providers have worked to trace the locations from which large clusters of messages are being sent. So far, the ICO has executed one search warrant and has plans to carry out more. Visits have also been carried out at a number of locations.
Investigators have also met with various lead generation and claims management companies to ask them where they are obtaining their customer data from. All of the companies are insisting that that the information they receive has been – as far as they are aware – obtained lawfully.
A separate strand of work relating to insurance companies’ general handling of personal data also began in June 2011 following a complaint made by Jack Straw MP. As part of this, the ICO has asked all of the major insurers to undergo an audit of their data protection practices. So far three companies have agreed and others are considering the offer.
ICO director of operations Simon Entwisle said: “Significant progress has been made in tracking down who is responsible for sending these nuisance messages. We have a good idea about who is behind the messages. So far these individuals have managed to cover their tracks but we’d encourage anyone with information to come forward.”
One industry source added: “They’ve been working on this for nearly a year and appear no nearer to finding out who is behind it. Text spam is a serious issue for direct marketers and threatens to bring the whole industry into disrepute. So far, the ICO’s repsonse has been pathetic.”
The ICO has also published the results of a text spam survey. Of the 1,014 respondents, 681 people said that receiving a text caused them concern; they felt troubled about why they had received the text and how their details had been obtained. Some 205 people said that it was inconvenient, while 61 respondents said the text had caused them substantial damage or distress.
The most prevalent spam texts related to accident compensation claims, with 794 of the survey’s respondents having received one. The survey also found that 439 people had received a payment protection insurance text and 360 had received a debt settlement text.

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