ICO takes action against companies over predatory marketing calls targeting elderly, vulnerable people

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced fines totalling £405,000 to five companies responsible for over 750,000 unwanted marketing calls targeted at older, vulnerable people. The ICO also issued these companies with enforcement notices that require them to immediately stop making these predatory calls.

After receiving complaints from the public and information from partner organisations, including Action Fraud, Trading Standards, the consumer group Which? and the call blocker provider trueCall, the ICO began investigating a number of companies that were calling people to sell insurance products or services for white goods and other large household appliances, such as televisions, washing machines and fridges. Many of the complainants said the people receiving the calls were vulnerable, with some having been suffering with dementia or other underlying health conditions.

The ICO investigation found that these companies were deliberately targeting older people by buying marketing data lists from third parties, specifically asking for personal information about people who are aged 60 and over, homeowners and with landline numbers.

The evidence gathered suggests these companies were either working together or using the same marketing list to target these people. This resulted in some people losing thousands of pounds for white goods insurance and servicing which the companies often knew they did not need.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, said:

“These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain.

“It is clear from the complaints we received that people felt frightened and distressed by the aggressive tactics of these companies, sometimes giving their financial details just so they could hang up the phone. This is unacceptable and clearly exploitative. It is only right that we take tough and prompt action to punish those companies responsible using our full powers.

“Companies making similar nuisance calls and causing harm to people can expect a strong response from my office. I encourage anyone who is being pestered by other rogue operators, or knows a family member or friend who is, to report them to the ICO and we will step in to protect the public from these invasive calls.”

The ICO is continuing to investigate a number of other companies – in addition to the five fined today – that appear to be operating in the same way. We will continue to report on our findings as we work to protect the public and maintain a level playing field that supports the legitimate UK marketing industry and identifies and tackles rogue companies that misuse peoples’ information.

Details of each fine

The ICO enforces the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which cover the rules for organisations wishing to make live direct marketing telephone calls.

Live marketing calls should not be made to anyone who has registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), unless they have told the caller that they wish to receive such calls from them.

Domestic Support Ltd (DSL) based in Littlehampton, West Sussex, made 69,133 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between January 2020 and July 2020. Complaints received suggest that DSL was providing different trading names when calling people, which is also unlawful. The company has been fined £80,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Home Sure Solutions Ltd (HSSL), based in Hove, East Sussex, made 229,483 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and September 2020. Our investigation found that HSSL purchased personal data from a third-party provider, which was ambiguous as to the source of the data, without carrying out due diligence. HSSL was also quoted a price by a third-party provider for personal information of UK homeowners, aged 60+ and with landline numbers, which shows they were deliberately targeting older people. The company has been fined £100,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Seaview Brokers Ltd, based in Chichester, West Sussex, made 4,737 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS in June 2020. Seaview purchased the data book from another company without reviewing evidence of consent for direct marketing or carrying out due diligence. The company has been fined £15,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

UK Appliance Cover Ltd, based in London, made 39,167 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between June 2020 and December 2020. Complaints received suggest that the company was targeting vulnerable people for financial gain. The ICO found no evidence that the services advertised through the nuisance calls were actually being provided. Complainants also said the callers were aggressive and threatening. The company has been fined £100,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

UK Platinum Home Care Services Ltd, based in London, made 412,556 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and October 2020, resulting in more than 50 complaints being made. The company purchased personal data from third-party providers, with contracts and invoices showing the company requested the contact details of people aged 60-80, homeowners and landline numbers. The company has been fined £110,000 and issued with an enforcement notice.

Details of complaints

Julie, of Yorkshire, said her elderly brother was a target of nuisance callers selling white goods insurance. She said: “Last year my older brother said he was receiving a high number of nuisance calls. He asked me to take a look at his finances as he had concerns. Almost immediately, I noticed a lot of monthly direct debits for white goods insurance policies. Some were duplicate payments for the same goods, and there were one-off payments worth £300.

“I was disgusted that my brother was being ripped off and targeted by nuisance callers. I made an appointment with his bank and, thankfully, they reimbursed the money lost. I also made a complaint to Action Fraud about these firms. It is extremely upsetting that my older brother has been preyed upon and manipulated by these rogue companies in his own home.”

Other complaints:

  • “Cold call – to persuade an elderly vulnerable person with old age memory loss to take out unneeded insurance on equipment – and then immediately debit her account. my mother-in-law (call recipient) is unable to arrange her own affairs, the attitude when we called to insist the transaction was cancelled was quite rude.” (sic)
  • “It has made me really ill, they keep calling and have taken money from me. I am an elderly woman.” (sic)
  • “The caller was threatening and coercive and put me in a very difficult situation which I am now having to try and get out of.” (sic)
  • “Very pushy saying that I had taken out a TV aerial insurance with them and wanting to update payment information. Which I haven’t. After I hung up they phoned back repeatedly until I blocked the number. They were very pushy, wouldn’t listen and clearly were just after my bank details. I was so concerned I phone my banks fraud team after.” (sic)

Advice for members of the public

To help you and your friends and relatives stop predatory marketing calls you can:

  • Register landlines and mobile numbers with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) free of charge. The TPS is a register of people who have said they don’t want to receive marketing calls. Alternatively, you can tell the company directly that you do not wish to be contacted;
  • Report any nuisance calls you continue to receive to the ICO using our online nuisance calls reporting tool.
  • Refer
    • concerns that you or someone you know has been the victim of fraud to Action Fraud (in England, Northern Ireland and Wales) and Police Scotland (in Scotland);
    • wider concerns about a business’ practices can be referred to Trading Standards;
    • any abandoned calls that you receive to Ofcom;

If your loved one is particularly vulnerable – for example, if they have dementia or other underlying health conditions – then you can speak to their telephone network to see what call blocking solutions may be available to support them. Many of these services are provided free of charge.

Every complaint counts, with the ICO issuing over £2.8 million in penalties against rogue companies responsible for nuisance calls, texts and emails in 2021/22 alone. Some of these investigations began with a single complaint from a member of the public. The ICO routinely works closely with other regulators and industry partners to share intelligence and take targeted action against companies and directors responsible for initiating nuisance calls.

The ICO has also welcomed proposals in the government consultation ‘Data: a new direction’ to strengthen the ICO’s powers to take action against companies that breach UK electronic marketing rules – including potentially increasing the fines that can be imposed for nuisance calls up to a maximum of £17.4 million or 4% of global turnover so they are aligned with those under UK GDPR, giving the ICO the power to take action on calls sent, as well as received, and the power to carry out compulsory audits of rogue companies suspected to be knowingly breaking the rules.

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