recent work

Spam text Firm fined £440,000

The ICO yesterday served the fine to two owners of marketing company Tetrus Telecoms; Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish. This is the first time the ICO has used its power to issue a monetary penalty for a serious breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) since January 2012, when it was first awarded the power.

The ICO became aware of Tetrus Telecoms after receiving intelligence in May 2011 that the company was sending huge volumes of unsolicited text messages from offices in Stockport and Birmingham, without the consent of the recipient and without identifying the sender – both of which are legal requirements under the PECR. Any replies were then used to generate leads that were sold to other companies at a considerable profit.

The ICO’s investigation included raids at the company’s Stockport premises, in August 2011, and the Manchester home of Niebel, in February this year. The evidence obtained showed Tetrus was using unregistered pay as you go sim cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal text messages a day with an income of £7,000 – £8,000 a day.

Examples of the text messages sent out by Tetrus Telecoms include:

  • CLAIM TODAY you may be entitled to £3500 for the accident you had. To claim free, reply CLAIM to this message. To opt out text STOP. Thank you
  • URGENT! If you took out a Bank Loan prior to 2007 then you are almost certainly entitled to £2300 in compensation. To claim reply ‘YES’
  • You have still not claimed the compensation you are due for the accident you had. To claim then pls reply CLAIM. To opt out text STOP

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said:

“The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law.

“In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses. We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations. We are using the information provided by the public to identify those responsible.”

Niebel has now been ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000, while McNeish, who appears to have taken less out of the business, has beenfined £140,000.

Niebel and McNeish are also facing prosecution from the ICO for failing to notify that Tetrus Telecoms was processing personal information. Notification is a legal requirement for organisations under the Data Protection Act punishable by a penalty up to £5,000 in the Magistrates Court, and a potentially unlimited fine in the Crown Court.

It is important that any company that has bought data from Tetrus or Niebel or McNeish in the past, now carefully checks that the proper customer consents have been obtained and that they are acting within the law.