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Brian Pennington

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More fines next year for nuisance call companies

Companies making nuisance calls have been warned to expect more fines in 2016.

The ICO imposed more than a million pounds worth of penalties for nuisance calls and text messages in 2015, with the same amount in the pipeline for early 2016.

The fines included:

  • £295,000 of fines for companies offering call blocking or nuisance call prevention services
  • A £80,000 fine to a PPI claims firm that sent 1.3million text messages
  • A £200,000 fine to a solar panels company that made six million nuisance calls
  • A £130,000 fine to a pharmacy company that was selling customer details to postal marketing companies

Total fines related to nuisance marketing in 2015:

  • £400,000 fines for nuisance texts (Help Direct UK Ltd; Oxygen Ltd; UKMS Money Solutions Ltd)
  • £575,000 fines for nuisance calls (Direct Assist Ltd; Point One Marketing Ltd; Cold Call Elimination Ltd; Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (HELM); Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd;  Nuisance Call Blocker Ltd; Telecom Protection Service Ltd)
  • £130,000 fine for selling customer records for marketing (Pharmacy 2U Ltd)
  • £30,000 fine for sending marketing email (Telegraph Media Group Ltd)

Total: £1,135,000. 

Andy Curry, ICO Enforcement Group Manager, said:

Nuisance marketing calls frustrate people. The law is clear around what is allowed, and we’ve been clear that we will fine companies who don’t follow the law. That will continue in 2016. We’ve got 90 ongoing investigations, and a million pounds worth of fines in the pipeline

The ICO received around 170,000 concerns in 2015 from people who’ve received nuisance calls and texts, a similar number to the previous year (2014: 175,330). PPI claims prompted the most complaints, followed by accident claims. Areas identified as emerging sectors for nuisance calls and texts included call blocking services, oven cleaning services and industrial hearing injury claims.

The following are examples of complaints showed the level of distress that calls can cause:

Telecom Protection Service:

“I was recovering from major surgery at the time and the call caused me distress. The caller was very smooth talking and did not make it clear that he was selling a commercial service that was nothing to do with the TPS. The call was frankly misleading.”

HELM:

“I am receiving daily updates regarding a friend in hospital, and am expecting the worst. When these calls come in I expect it to be from the hospital.”

Cold Call Elimination:

“This company has ‘conned’ my mother out of £84.99 for an unnecessary service … my parents are 87 and 86 respectively; my father is suffering from dementia.”

“I am looking after my elderly mother who has terminal cancer. She initially answered and I could see I needed to intervene as I could hear the sales guy not giving up. I took the phone and asked him who he was and what he wanted. He got quite annoyed that I had intervened and I told him we were not interested.”

Point One Marketing:

“Very upset and angry that my mum, who has dementia, was talked into giving credit card details when it would have been obvious to the caller that she had dementia. This caused my mum distress because I had to explain why her debit card had to be cancelled and what she had done. This has caused both of us great distress. Had I not checked her call log and … the number that had called her I would not have known it had happened at all.”

May is Scam Awareness Month

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has launched its Scam Awareness Month to stop the surge in criminals scamming people out of their saving.

From fake lottery wins in the post to Microsoft and Anti Virus support on the phones, Prince X trying to get his millions out of the country via email and door-to-door conmen they all appear to be on the increase.

The criminals, politely called “scammers” are allegedly getting away with an estimated £73 billion* a year.

The TSI Scams Awareness Month has one big message ‘Turn them in and turn the tide’.

Working in partnership with Citizens Advice and Action Fraud, the national fraud and internet crime reporting and advice centre, trading standards teams across the country are encouraging anyone receiving scam mailings, or friends and family of anyone they believe is a victim of scam mailings, to contact them.

“The mailings received in this year’s ‘SCAMNESTY’ will be analysed and the information shared with partner enforcement agencies in the UK and abroad. This will help us crack down on the senders and their networks, and enable us to help victims of scams directly, giving them tools to deal with this problem, ”  said Louise Baxter, chair of the TSI Consumer Education Liaison Group, which is co-ordinating the campaign.

Peter Wilson, Director of Action Fraud, said: “An essential part of stopping fraudsters preying on vulnerable people is to make sure these incidents are reported to Action Fraud. Whether you’ve lost money or not, we want to know what’s happened. All information is good information when it comes to tracking down those responsible for the network of scams that continue to plague people, particularly the elderly, daily.”

Another important aim of May’s campaign is to help people to recognise the warning signs and then to seek advice or simply reject approaches.

People with elderly or vulnerable relatives are being urged to be extra-vigilant. An increase in mail, unusual payments or bank transactions, or more incoming telephone calls than normal to a parent, grandparent or other vulnerable adult could be a sign that scammers are at work.

Ron Gainsford, TSI Chief Executive, said: “Time and again we hear from trading standards of yet another of these distressing stories about vulnerable adults preyed upon by cruel, greedy people, and we fight to find ways to protect these victims. It is challenging because we cannot interfere with human rights and individual choices, but it is vital that we are all aware that such scams are taking place, and how, through the post and internet, they get into victims’ homes and lives.

“The May edition of our house magazine, TS Today, features just such a case where thanks to a last minute trading standards intervention, an elderly victim wasn’t scammed out his house – the very roof over his head. “TSI supports the Think Jessica campaign run by Marilyn Baldwin, whose mother was scammed out of thousands.”

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “There are a lot of rogues and chancers looking to make a quick buck by ripping off others. It’s only by working together that we will crack down on these con artists and stamp out scams for good.

“Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of a scam can get help from Citizens Advice, either by going to their local bureau or calling our consumer service phone line.”

The TSI offer the following tips:

  • Stop, think and be sceptical. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is.
  • Do not be rushed into sending off money to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even where an approach is personalised.
  • Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer – thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer.
  • Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam – it’s not a gamble worth taking.
  • If you are unsure of an offer, speak to family or friends and seek advice before sending any money or giving out any banking or credit card details.

Scams can be reported to

  • Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk
  • Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 040506.
  • During May, any suspicious letters can also be handed in at libraries in many areas.

*Figure taken from the Annual Fraud Indicator 2012.

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