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Add it to the tab: ICO fines another spammer as unpaid bills mount

Churn and burn marketing firms leave ICO fine factory £2.26 million in the red.

London-based finance company Nouveau Finance been fined £70,000 (US$85,752, A$112,391) for hiring a spamming marketing company that sent UK residents some 2.2 million illegal SMS messages.

92 battered Britons complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) which handed down the fine on Monday.

The loan broker, based in Finchley, recruited an un-named marketing company to ship text messages over six months but failed to ensure it complied with the UK Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation.

Companies must consult the Telephone Preference Service for individuals who have opted out of marketing calls and obtain prior permission before sending marketing text messages.

ICO enforcement group manager Andy Curry fears Nouveau Finance is representative of a cottage industry operating across the UK.

"The problem end of this sector is characterised by small marketing companies that pay little heed to the rules," Curry says.

"Setting up an operation that can make millions of calls is unfortunately surprisingly easy, with little outlay required on equipment, premises or staff."

Companies penalised for recruiting spammers rarely pay ICO fines. As of 24 October only a paltry six of the 27 fines ICO imposed were paid with many companies choosing to liquidate and thumb noses at the April 2015 law reforms that granted the Office the power to enforce financial penalties.

The largest fine of £350,000 was imposed on Brighton company Prodial Ltd for sending some 46 million automated nuisance phone calls. It opted to liquidate rather than pay the fine.

The Office is owed some £2.26 million in unpaid fines by unscrupulous fly-by-night spammers, and says it is using "all means available" including the courts and insolvency practitioners to recoup the debt.

Searches of Government records reveals directors of some organisations handed stop orders by the ICO have spun up several since-dissolved limited companies dealing in "mass communication" over voice and text.

The ICO's most recent fine was served to Manchester-based Intelligent Lending in September charging the company £130,000 for spamming seven million text messages.

It was sent before the ink had barely dried on a £30,000 fine issued earlier that month to Carfinance247 for another spam effort involving 65,000 SMS messages.

Scores more have been fined by the ICO for what amounts to tens of millions of illegal marketing phone calls and text messages, and hundreds of thousands of emails.

Directors of churn and burn spamming marketing outfits could be personally fined up to £1 million under Government plans, in what the ICO says will prevent liquidation as a means of escaping paying hefty fines.

The ICO head of enforcement Steve Eckersley speaking of the Nouveau Finance fine says organisations are responsible for the actions of recruited third party marketing firms.

“Relying on another company to do your marketing is not a get-out clause when it comes to the law," Eckersley says.

“Our investigation found that despite relying heavily on direct marketing for its business, the company did not seem to understand the rules around electronic marketing and that’s not good enough."

The company faces court action and fines of up to £500,000 if it persists with the SMS spamming.

"The law is there for a reason, it’s to stop companies inundating people with unwanted messages," Eckersley says. ®

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