Call blocking company fined - for nuisance calls
A COMPANY selling services that would block nuisance calls has been handed a £50,000 fine - for making nuisance calls.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued the fine to Stop The Calls, after an investigation showed the company to be operating in a "bullying, aggressive" way.
The company worked by cold calling people and offering to sell them a call blocking device for their phones, and to add them to a database that would remove them from other cold call lists.
But the ICO found that Stop The Calls would themselves call people repeatedly, sometimes on the same day, and that their staff would shout at people requesting not to be called again.
Between February 1st 2014 and March 31st 2015, the ICO received 169 complaints about Stop The Calls, the trading name of the Bournemouth based Point One Marketing.
All the people who complained to the ICO were already registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), a company contracted by telecoms regulator Ofcom to keep up to date lists of the numbers of people who don't want to be contacted.
Meanwhile, the TPS themselves received 562 complaints about the company between February 1st 2014 and February 28th 2015.
By March 2014, Stop The Calls were in the top 20 most complained about companies on the TPS lists, and stayed there for the rest of the period covered.
The TPS isn't perfect - for one thing, companies have to subscribe to receive a regularly updated list of the numbers on the register, and plenty just don't bother.
It also applies only to live marketing calls - spam texts and automated call systems aren't covered.
But any company live calling someone registered with the TPS - as was the case with Stop The Calls - is breaking the law.
And yet it's only been since April this year that the ICO have been able to act against nuisance callers without having to prove the callers' actions are causing "substantial damage or distress".
Some of the complaints about Stop The Calls clearly show how much distress they caused to the people they called:
"I was intimidated and shouted at by the call representative and would not explain how they got my number considering I was ex-directory."
One woman who complained said her mother had been talked into giving them her credit card details despite it being obvious that she suffered from dementia.
Others said they were led to believe the service being sold was somehow officially linked to the TPS.
Stop The Calls told the ICO that in the case of the majority of the complaints made to the TPS, they had referred to a list of numbers bought from a third party organisation.
The numbers on that list belonged to people who they understood to have opted in to marketing calls, but they admitted they hadn't checked that list against the TPS register.
They also said that in four cases they hadn't made the call being complained about, and that in one case they hadn't called the number since September 2013.
They said they were responding to a request for information in just one of the 562 cases brought to the TPS.
The ICO say that while they and the TPS between them received more than 700 complaints about Stop The Calls, the complaints they've received will only represent a proportion of the total number of people who received the calls.
The Commissioner also drew attention to the fact that some of the sales staff were "rude and aggressive and they preyed on the elderly and vulnerable," and that bank or card details were often obtained "under duress".
ICO head of enforcement Stephen Eckersley says Stop The Calls "lacked integrity" as a company, but that "they are by no means the only offender out there."
He urged people affected by nuisance calls, texts, emails and even faxes to complain, so action can be taken; the ICO's own complaints reporting tool is available here.
The ICO can issue fines of up to £500,000 - 10 times the amount they've fined Stop The Calls.
But this fine, small as it might seem, is on the larger side.
In December 2014, Ofcom - who are responsible for dealing with companies making silent and abandoned calls - fined two companies £20,000 each for making thousands of such calls over just a few months.
Compare that to the regulatory verve of the US Federal Communications Commission, which has the power to fine companies up to $16,000 for each individual violation - which resulted in them issuing a fine of $7.5 million to one company.
The UK is considered to have some of the weakest legislation against unwanted marketing in the EU - putting the onus on us as consumers to tell companies we don't want to hear from them, rather than them assuming we'd rather not be contacted unless we say otherwise.