back to article Four cold calling marketing firms fined almost £500k by ICO

The UK’s data watchdog has issued £480,000 in financial penalties to four businesses that illegally made 2.4 million marketing calls to members of the public registered with the Telephone Preference Services (TPS). Individuals that sign up to the TPS should not receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls to their landline or …

  1. Woodnag

    What's worse?

    "The company was fined £180,000 and ordered to stop making calls within 30 days".

    The 30 days grace to stop breaking the law? Or the fact the fine won't be paid anyway?

    How does any of this deter future miscreants?

    1. cynic56

      Re: What's worse?

      Does the 30 day rule apply to all crimes? I might take up bank robbery. If I get caught, I can keep trying for another 30 days. Even I might succeed in that time.

    2. Adelio

      Re: What's worse?

      I say kill them all /s

      I mean the companies. I have an option on my land line phone to block calls and i bet there are probably at least 50 numbers blocked.

      Being W.F.H for the last year has opened my eyes to the number of nusance calls.

      one way to tell is to answer the phone but say nothing for a few seconds, a lot of times the Auto dialed number just hangs up, i just automatically block all those numbers. Anyone actually on the phone will speak, and that means a real person, i can then figure out who they are.

      1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

        Re: What's worse?

        Much easier here, if the number is not in our contacts list on the phone it goes to answerphone, if someone genuine wants us then when they start to leave a message we can pick up the phone.

        seems to have cut the number of calls down dramatically

  2. Das Schaf

    I wonder, what is their recovery rate for the fines they have doled out in the past? If it's over 10% I'll be surprised.

    (edit) Can't pay Information Commissioner's fine? No problem! Just liquidate your firm

    Well paint me blue and call me Papa Smurf, it's 54% !!!

  3. krs360

    And after 30 days...

    The companies will fold, the directors will set up new companies, and the cycle starts again.

    They should be held personally liable and assets seized until the fines are paid, and the directors barred from setting up a new company.

    1. quxinot

      Re: And after 30 days...

      An unpaid fine should be considered theft from the government, and treated as such.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: And after 30 days...

      "They should be held personally liable"

      Yup. Limited liabilty law only shields the SHAREHOLDERS. Directors are n the hook for unlawful actions

  4. alain williams Silver badge

    TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

    So that is really putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

    Which? found that people registered on the TPS list received twice as many marketing calls as those not on the list.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

      Your link to TPS states: "The TPS is the only such register that is enforced by law in the UK. It is regulated by Ofcom and enforced by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)".

      Not sure fox/hen is an issue. The problem in my experience is the law is an ass and the ICO is out-foxed. And those called illegally will never be compensated under any circumstances.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

        Yeah, well just because the foxes happened to successfully lobby the government to put them in charge of the hen house doesn't make it any better. It just indicates that those in government are weasels. Or something.

        IMHO, the fines that have been levelled are a few orders of magnitude too low. The onus should be on the marketroids to actively gain consent to their activities, not on their victims customers to opt out.

        The whole "Direct Marketing" thing stinks. I don't want marketing directed at me any more than I want ionising radiation.

    2. JetSetJim

      Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

      Dunno who Which asked, have been on TPS for ages (several numbers) and the only calls I get are the obvious scammers who clearly don't subscribe to the lawful way of doing things. But YMMV, of course

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

        "But YMMV, of course"

        I get the impression that some of the the callers are individuals who are local franchisees for some service eg cleaning ovens, carpets. They are presumably fed "positive" contacts generated by a centralised autocall recording as part of the franchise business operation.

        Then there are others who claim that TPS doesn't apply to "surveys".

        1. JetSetJim

          Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

          From their FAQ:

          Does the TPS stop all unwanted calls?

          No. Our remit only covers live unsolicited sales or marketing calls. We can’t prevent other call types, such as recorded/automated messages, silent calls, market research, overseas companies, debt collection, scam calls, nuisance and abusive calls, and so on. Please see Nuisance, Abusive and Other Calls for further information.

          So it's not really bullet proof, or at least no more than any other piece of paper. Saying that, I get no calls touting surveys of any kind, legitimate or otherwise.

    3. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

      Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

      What is the use of TPS or Do-Not-Call-Register if the policy makers inserts "exclusions" or exemptions?

      In Australia, for example, political parties, surveys and charitable organizations are exempted. And let me tell you this: Timing is everything. When they call us, it is always (I am not even joking) during dinner time.

      So I took matters into my own hands and turned on Lenny. My last un-wanted call I got was October. 2019.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

        who or what is Lenny?

        1. Claverhouse Silver badge

          Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_(bot)

          Poor old Wiki says a soft Aussie accent, but the excellent fellow sounds more North London to me. Maybe having lived in Herts for much of his life; which he will tell you all about, in snatches

        2. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

          Re: TPS is run by the Direct Marketing Association

          who or what is Lenny

          Lenny is every scammers' worst nightmare.

          Believe me when I say this: The scammers kept calling my number until I turned on Lenny for about 18 months. And then, voila, the calls stop.

          Lenny, in my humble opinion, is more effective than any law about scam calls.

  5. Colin Bull 1
    Unhappy

    I am surprised at this much progress

    My current complaint through TPS received the following reply

    It would appear that **** are misrepresented by a company using the same or similar trading name and/or spoofed their telephone number. However, we have not been able to positively identify the offending company. Please note that TPS does not have the facility to track or trace telephone calls that you have received.

    I have replied with email received from them with headers that clearly show the company involved.

    But to do this I had to convince them to send me an email.

    Most of the Indian call centres used spoofed numbers and TPS are powerless to follow up. I get 1 to 2 calls every day, I string them out to waste their time and try to get them to send an email to get some evidence.

    The government need to force carriers to use technology that can verify or track back numbers. This would also stop a high percentage of fraud carried out by telephone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am surprised at this much progress

      BT have a page for logging scam calls. They say it will help them in their investigations. I get usually two scam calls a day on my landline. Some of these are using/spoofing UK landline or mobile numbers - so presumably they originate in the UK. As my landline traffic is otherwise about zero - BT should have had no problem tracking the callers over the last couple of years.

      Anyone know if they do indeed correlate this data - and not just apparently to offer me a call-shielding extra on my bill?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am surprised at this much progress

      1-2 calls? I get at least 5 per day. Every day. I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t been WFH since last March. I only have a landline for my parents to phone me. Just cut off the lines from foreign countries that allow this to happen.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: I am surprised at this much progress

        The "BT Technical Centre" calls from "Shaun" or "Steve" with the strong Indian accent have stopped now. I strung them out by pretending to follow their instructions to download remote control software (making lots of mistakes and asking silly questions to wind them up). Then after wasting enough of their time I dropped the bomb, they get very angry and even more when I laugh.

        1. Gavin Chester

          Re: I am surprised at this much progress

          As soon as they start the spiel that they are from my ISP (Pro Tip - It helps if you get my ISP's name right if your trying to con me, and saying I'm calling from Sky, sorry BT [neither are my ISP] is a bit of a give away) and are detecting my internet issues I've taken to asking why they called me direct rather than it coming through the police switchboard.

          The call drops rapidly, and I'm hoping sooner or later it gets marked in enough places as a police number and so it slows the flow.

          Or I get back in the office and they can call all they want and talk to the Answerphone as its not me paying for the call

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I am surprised at this much progress

            "[...] I'm hoping sooner or later it gets marked in enough places [...]"

            Very unlikely. I have upset sufficient scam callers over the last year or so - that I would have expected the number of calls to decline. I even get several calls in the same day using exactly the same script. One or two callers can now possibly be identified by their voice and reaction to my style of abuse. If you hit a personal mark - then their verbal reaction is instinctive and ingrained.

    3. Adelio

      Re: I am surprised at this much progress

      More importantly the phone company DOES know who to charge the call to so if you give them your number and the date.time I presume they should be able to trace the originator.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I am surprised at this much progress

        Not necessarily. Calls from another network, particularly international calls, might only be presented as coming from that network and may or may not present a number, let alone a genuine number. BT or whoever simply charge the foreign network. It's that networks problem to bill the individual.

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Re: I am surprised at this much progress

          And therein lies a big chunk of the problem.

          I can think of one way to (more or less) stop these calls - make the carrier liable for compensating the victims UNLESS they can positively identify the source.

          So (say) BT takes a call from overseas, and it turns out to be a scam call and they are on the hook. Since the UK authorities can't really chase carriers in other countries, it would then be for BT to have a contractual clause with the inbound carrier to recover the fine BT pays. You then put BT in a position where it costs them money if they take calls from "dodgy" foreign carriers - and so they will act ina manner to minimise that cost. It may result in some foreign callers getting a recorded message along the lines of "your call cannot be connected because you are using a scumbag carrier who allowed any old criminal to make scam calls".

          Of course, that would only apply to network calls - VoIP is another matter. There the scum just need to sign up with any VoIP provider (who provides UK numbers) and then they can make their calls from anywhere in the world but present a UK number. Here it wold come down to the VoIP provider doing their due diligence in knowing who the customer actually is rather than accepting anyone who can fill in the signup form. Can't finger your customer, you pay (part of) their fine !

          I can't see this ever happening - too many vested interests in the status quo as they all make money from it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time for phone whitelists. Blocked until allowed.

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Sky used to do this. Someone would call my landline, then Sky would call me and a bot would say "So-and-so is calling, do you want to accept the call? Press 1 for yes or 9 for no".

      However, the line is now only used for broadband and has no phone connected to it these days.

    2. Coastal cutie

      Only problem with that is when the police or other emergency service/hospital need to get hold of you in a hurry and can't because unrecognised numbers aren't allowed.

  7. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

    What about the suppliers of the data?

    Two of the four companies mentioned had obtained lists from other companies. Shirley the list suppliers should also be required to respect TPS? Time for the TPS / ICO to be a bit more proactive

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile...

    The ICO voluntarily agrees to a gagging order protecting Facebook over what actions it took during the Cambridge Analytica case:

    https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/26/facebooks-secret-settlement-on-cambridge-analytica-gags-uk-data-watchdog/?guccounter=1

  9. Palpy
    Pint

    Scam call article, and ...

    ... vid from anti-scam white-hat.

    NYT article on the scam industry.

    "The Long Read" -- https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/magazine/scam-call-centers.html

    Also, a link to a video posted by the "Jim Browning" anti-scammer mentioned in the NYT article: https://d.tube/#!/v/jimbrowning/zsgjr21a.

    Beer for "Jim Browning".

    Today's cold-call on my phone: "Your vehicle warranty is about to expire..." Sigh.

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Re: Scam call article, and ...

      Yeah... My wife has been getting a lot vehicle warranty calls. She laughs and hangs up. Not like there's a warranty on either 1985 pickup or a 1968 van.

  10. very angry man

    it's not enough

    it should be dollars per call, worked out on the invoices they send for payment, and the company exec's should be libal

    Perhaps commando's or nuke first strike for the indians ( yes the speak very good english)

  11. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    So who's side is the ICO on: Fine amounts to £0.20/call

    £480,000 fine for 2.4 million calls equates to £0.20/call.

    Exactly who's "side" is the ICO on?

    If I was a call scammer, running up against the ICO would be a blessing.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: So who's side is the ICO on: Fine amounts to £0.20/call

      That 20p per call doesn't match up with convicted calling companies income. IIRC, cold calling only result in about 2-5% positive response rate. Possibly less that lead to an actual sale.

  12. MrMerrymaker

    Non law abiding scammers

    I'm a lot more bothered by the (usually overseas, spoofing they're HM Revenue) illegal calls where they spoof a UK number, and just lie, anything they can to get your card deets.

    Can nothing be done? Because nothing is being done. I'm thinking on a technical level. The phone companies do nothing. (and I don't mean "do something" for me personally. I want to GET THEM.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Non law abiding scammers

      Can an overseas caller spoof a number as if in the UK - other than coming through a UK based IP gateway? I get "International" indicated - and sometimes there is more information available as a supplementary number.

      Judging by the amount of VOIP-type distortion on some "international" ones - it may be they are cascading connections as a way to hide their trail.

  13. david drysdale

    If Telcos blocked calls with impossible caller numbers it would help. I often get calls with spoofed CLIs where the number after the NNG is a 0 or a 1.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It would be better if the telco had to authorise the use of a specific spoofed number. Not a problem for legitimate users' needs. A quick call set-up compare would weed out the use of unregistered ones - and hopefully flag their true origin for investigation.

      1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

        All half-competent carriers require some sort of authentication before they'll allow you to spoof a number - basically prove that it is actually your number. The issue is that there isn't any practical way to prevent a dishonest or careless carrier from allowing it as there's no practical way to validate where the call can come from - and in the general case it would need to be a list, not just a single source.

        Presentation numbers have a lot of valid uses - for example, arranging that calls made from various offices of a business "come from" a number recognisably as that business regardless of which office originated it.

        As I wrote a few posts up, there could be ways to make it in the interests of carriers to be more selective who they'll deal with - but it'll never happen.

        As it is, with a previous work hat on, I did have a requirement to set up a presentation number for one of our clients. I was looking at the documentation for the VoIP service - and realised that I didn't need to send anything in, they took our work for it as the reseller that we'd checked that the customer actually owned the number. This was for a legitimate purpose - but the scope for abusing that would be huge.

  14. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

    Fines should never be less than £1 per call

    That would help..

    Plus liability should automatically be transferred to directors for this crime - even for limited companies...

    Plus the carrier that delivers the call to the victim - normally BT - should be liable for all unpaid fines after 3 months.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Fines should never be less than £1 per call

      Maybe the cost of a 1st class stamp as that'll keep up with inflation.

      Also (at least) 50% of the fine should be credited to the recipients phone bill. The administration for that can be covered by the carrier as they profited from the calls.

      That might encourage the carriers to detect and stop obvious robot calls. The few legitimate users of robot calling could join a registration scheme so their calls are not interfered with.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Fines should never be less than £1 per call

        "The few legitimate users of robot calling could join a registration scheme so their calls are not interfered with."

        At first glance, that's a good and sensible idea. Then the Telcos try do it on the cheap with automated systems and you get legitimate operators blocked, see for example re-enactment groups with the word "Militia" in their name or, more recently "Plymouth Hoe" (Ho?) being banned by Facebook until brought to their attention, because in the US, "hoe" means something else in US English

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Fines should never be less than £1 per call

          Telcos try do it on the cheap with automated systems and you get legitimate operators blocked

          As long as the automated systems just flag a potential problem to the "human in the loop" then it's fine, if the automatic systems can cut a line then there will be problems.

          The carriers make millions, they can afford an office with half a dozen people to monitor what the automatic systems are doing.

          Any disruption to a registered legitimate business should incur large penalties.

          If the carriers know mistakes will significantly impact their bottom line, they will ensure adequate safeguards are in place.

          The only way we'll get rid of this problem is to make too expensive for the carriers to ignore it.

          1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

            Re: Fines should never be less than £1 per call

            As long as the automated systems just flag a potential problem to the "human in the loop" then it's fine

            This is the telecoms industry we're talking about - of course they won't employ any humans in the loop. Perhaps a poor chimpanzee to handle the complaints from blocked legitimate businesses, but pay wages to humans ?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fines should never be less than £1 per call

        "The few legitimate users of robot calling [...]"

        I was surprised one day by the master socket phone ringing - when all the house cordless ones were silent because the mains power had just failed. A recording told me that my electricity supply had failed - and the company's repairers were trying to locate the fault.

        Very useful - but I wonder what area has to fail before the phone system goes into overload?

  15. BillyBerkshire

    Bank Details

    When I pick the phone up to "BT Support" or "Microsoft Support" telling me they've spotted a problem with my 'whatever' I started telling them I haven't got time for any of this and it would be much quicker if we cut to the chase and I simply provide them with my bank details. Surprise, surprise not one of them has taken me up on my kind offer nor do they have the decency to further progress the "Tech Support" call.

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