December 18th 2013
Payday loans company First Financial has been fined £175,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after being investigated for sending millions of unlawful spam texts.
Organisations are required to have an individual’s consent before sending marketing messages by text, according to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). However, 4,031 complaints were made against messages sent from numbers which the ICO found to belong to First Financial. Some posed as texts from recipients' friends, reading: "Hi Mate hows u? I'm still out in town, just got £850 in my account from these guys www.firstpaydayloaduk.co.uk", which also prompted action from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Simon Entwisle, ICO Director of Operations, said: “People are fed up with this menace and they are not willing to be bombarded with nuisance calls and text messages at all times of the day trying to get them to sign up to high interest loans. The fact that this individual tried to distance himself from the unlawful activities of his company shows the kind of individuals we’re dealing with here.” He continued: “We will continue to target these companies that continue to blight the daily lives of people across the UK. We are also currently speaking with the government to get the legal bar lowered, allowing us to take action at a much earlier stage.”
The texts were sent using unregistered SIM cards – a common method used by spammers to avoid detection. They referred recipients to a website belonging to firstpaydayloanuk.co.uk, a trading name used by First Financial.
The company’s former sole director, Hamed Shabani, was prosecuted in October 2013 after he breached the Data Protection Act (DPA) by failing to notify his company's processing of personal information with the ICO. Shabani was fined £1,180.66, despite trying to claim he had nothing to do with the company.
If you receive an unsolicited text message, you should avoid replying and report the message to the ICO using the reporting tool available on its website. Over 200,000 responses have been sent in since the service was set up early last year, with the information used to help identify offenders. Mobile network operators are working to block the worst offenders, and you can report spam texts by sending them to '7726'.
The ICO has also published detailed guidance for direct marketers explaining their legal requirements under the Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. 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.