Data Protection Update - September 2015

"A wolf in sheep's clothing"

In an ironic turn of events, the Information Commissioners Office ("ICO") has recently issued a £75,000 fine to Cold Call Elimination Ltd ("CCE") for making unsolicited direct marketing calls to elderly and vulnerable customers, in a bid to sell cold call blocking devices.

Over the course of several years, CCE was engaged in a process of aggressively contacting potential customers in an attempt to sell a call-blocking service, which would otherwise be offered for free by the Telephone Preference Service ("TPS"), and an accompanying device for the purpose of blocking the very calls CCE was making.  

It has emerged that over a period of two years, both the ICO and TPS received 382 complaints about CCE from individuals who had signed up to the TPS.

Despite being monitored by the ICO and given a period to improve, CCE continued to make cold calls to individuals registered with the TPS. This flagrant disregard for the ICO is obviously a contributory factor to the level of the fine that was imposed, but more importantly it forced the ICO to send a clear warning to other companies who engage in telephone marketing.  The ICO's Head of Enforcement, Steve Eckersley, said: "This monetary penalty has been issued to make sure that Cold Call Elimination realise that it is unacceptable to operate in this way. It should also be a warning to other companies that we will act if companies are found to be breaking the law".

The ICO has published comprehensive guidance for companies carrying out marketing activities. The guidance covers the circumstances in which organisations are able to carry out marketing over the phone, by text, by email, by post or by fax.  As a very minimum, companies should not telephone individuals listed on the TPS, unless such individuals have expressly consented to receiving the calls.

Direct marketing is something that is clearly on the ICO's radar and, as such, organisations should review their marketing strategies to try and avoid falling foul of the regulator. 

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