back to article PPI-pusher makes 75 MEEELLION nuisance calls, lands £350k fine

A company that made 75 million nuisance calls in just four months has been handed a £350,000 fine from the UK's data protection watchdog. Mis-sold Products UK Ltd made the automated marketing calls between November 2015 and March 2016, eliciting 146 complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office. Andy Curry, ICO …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Fair fine?

    We need a formula that reflects the damage.

    If we say that a phone call, even if it only lasts a minute, breaks the concentration of the victim and wastes say, 10 mins of their time, then the fine should be 10 mins x living wage (£8.50/hr?) = £1.40 per call.

    So, in this case, about £106 million.

    It's the only language these scum understand...

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Fair fine?

      Who cares what the number on the fine is, they never collect the money anyway.

      1. inmypjs Silver badge

        Re: Fair fine?

        "never collect the money anyway"

        They should go after the scummy lawyers who engaged the telephone spammers.

    2. Oh Homer Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Easy way to collect the fines

      Arrest the company directors and keep them in custody until they pay the fine. If they refuse or hold out for more than a month, send them to prison for one month for every day the payment is overdue. If they still refuse then send them down for life, freeze their business and personal accounts, seize all available assets and auction them off. Anything tucked away in tax havens should be pursued using reciprocal agreements with the host country (or conversely the threat of trade embargoes). Assets held in trust or signed away to a spouse should also be fair game, as this is another well recognised avoidance gambit.

      Like most government bodies that claim to be tough on corporate violators, they need to grow a pair and learn the true meaning of the word "tough".

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Easy way to collect the fines

        I sometimes think China has the right idea for the company directors: firing squad. I remember a couple of big fraud cases in China were the senior management was not only convicted but executed. Might make you think twice.

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Easy way to collect the fines

          > Might make you think twice.

          I tend to think that being executed reduces chances to re-think rather drastically.

    3. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Fair fine?

      > It's the only language these scum understand...

      There is apparently another language that is (universally) understood.

      Once upon a time a Russian spammer, spamming Russians, spammed at least one wrong Russian. The news reports about the response included the phrase "execution style".

  2. Mike Dolan
    Holmes

    Meh

    The ICO make a big song and dance about handing out fines.

    Now get back to me when they actually collect any money....

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      How would you like to be contacted?

      - phone / email / SMS / smoke signals / carrier pigeon (please state African or European)

      How often would you like to be contacted?

      - monthly / weekly / daily / within the Planck time

      Do you accept that we will use your details in any way we want?

      - Yes / Yes

  3. John Geddes

    Fined 0.5p per call

    At 0.5p per call, the expense of the fine (if ever paid) is a modest part of the cost structure of such a business: even if you only get one lead for every thousand calls, that is only £5 per lead. If we can't prevent operations like this at the outset, then the fine needs to be high enough to make it uneconomic. ICO seem a soft touch!

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: Fined 0.5p per call

      ICO seem a soft touch!

      ICO operate within a strict legal framework that limits how much they can fine people, AND there's an established "methodology" for regulatory fines that would mean if the ICO zapped everybody with the current maximum £500k penalty on the basis that it ought to be higher, it would be easy to successfully challenge in court.

      The essential problem is that the government have acted like slugs over all data protection issues, have deferred to the EU rather than whacking in a decent framework of their own, haven't fixed the loophole of disposable companies (despite promising to), and the various regulators and enforcers (OFCOM, TPS. ASA, Insolvency Service, even police, CPS etc) don't work together to ensure that offending directors and managers are barred, fined and if need be imprisoned.

      I'd also have thought the ICO should not send their own "cease and desist" type of warning shots, but get courts orders to the same effect. Then the repeat offenders and those who ignore the warning are in contempt of court, and could be treated accordingly.

  4. A K Stiles
    Mushroom

    Jail time

    Send the Managing Director(s) to jail.

    They've clearly ignored regulations and attempted to evade any penalties by closing the company - demonstrating awareness of their wrongdoing.

    Prison time and forfeiture of assets seems the only way to get the message through.

    (I may have started 2018 angry)

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Jail time

      "Send the Managing Director(s) to jail."

      Managing director is just s couple of words - I don't think it's a legally defined term so best to avoid it.

      But there is provision for directors' liabilities within the new DP Bill. See section 117 at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0066/lbill_2017-20190066_en_12.htm#pt7-pb4-l1g177

      it is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of or to be attributable to neglect on the part of a director, manager, secretary or similar officer of the body corporate, or a person who was purporting to act in such a capacity. The director, manager, secretary, officer or person, as well as the body corporate, is guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and

      punished accordingly.

      The provision is there, let's hope it will be used.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    We need two things:

    A mechanism for recipients to charge a handling fee from the callers' telecoms accounts. The telecoms companies would, of course, have to protect themselves by managing the callers' credit which might in itself be sufficient to choke off the entire business model.

    The other would be to give the ICO the power for a pre-emptive strike to freeze a company's bank account so that fines couldn't be evaded.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      The calls would likely go through much cheaper ( and not under your regulations ) foreign VOIP providers, or through a GSM gateway with pre-paid sims.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "The calls would likely go through much cheaper ... foreign VOIP providers"

        They eventually land with a local telecom company for the last leg. That company knows who to bill. Even if it passes through a number of companies they should still know who to bill. The last one who fails to record where the call came from is left holding the baby. If it's a pre-paid SIM then they need to debit the SIM PDQ. At present telecoms companies are making money out of the racket, they need to share the risk.

        The likely result of even looking seriously at this would be likely to result in telecoms companies tightening up - they wouldn't want to undertake the cost of S/W development to handle business which would be liable to dry up.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "freeze a company's bank account"

      Let me add to that: freeze directors' accounts and accounts to which the directors might have some control such as their spouses.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Currently one recorded call comes through on a number that presents as "019..." On closer inspection it is then flagged as "International" with the number as secondary information. Don't know how that quirk is created in the CLI display. Presumably the number is not their real one - just a way to defeat anti-coldcall barriers.

    They are apparently flogging double glazing - so there has to be a culpable UK company behind the calls. The same goes for the "oven cleaning" one.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      This is the solution ^^^

      These companies are ringing you because they're trying to sell something. Whether it's some kind of personal injury lawyer, or a double glazing company, somewhere there's a real company that's trying to get sales leads.

      Come down hard on the company that is being advertised and soon the spammer's business will dry up.

  7. FordPrefect

    That's less than half a penny per call. That's a real deterant, they should be able to first fine the company any turn over created from those calls, and then a decent punative rate per call. How about £1 per call ? So that would be £75 million plus any money taken as a result of those calls?

    1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

      The title was nearly right.

      "75 MEEELLION nuisance calls, lands £350k" should be 75M calls times 350K fine per call. Now THAT would get their fekkin attention when the leg breaking tax auditors show up to collect.

  8. Scott Broukell

    There need only be ONE telemarketing law - it's all illegal, now go away!

  9. DamnedIfIKnow
    Unhappy

    No Collection?

    How come they don't collect the fines?

    And if that's the case, what's the point of the whole exercise?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: No Collection?

      Because the company has no money in the bank account by the time the bailiffs arrive, and there is no mechanism for getting it from the owners.

    2. rmason Silver badge

      Re: No Collection?

      Because the companies just "go bust" and shut down. Practically instantly.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Collection?

      I have a company

      Scummy Tw*ts Ltd

      Also registered is

      Scummy Tw*ts UK Ltd

      The first company gets the fine then goes into to liquidation, the second company owned by my partner then comes in like a knight in shining armour to take over the rental of my offices and takes on the staff. Praise be the company is saved.

      Rinse and repeat Ad infinitum.

  10. inmypjs Silver badge

    I wish

    They would get hold of the unavailable number bastards who have called me at least 50 times over several months about green deal windows recycling scheme bollocks.

    1. Stratman

      Re: I wish

      Agree to a visit then punch them in the face.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wish

      I've taken to agreeing to the telemarketer sending out someone to appraise the property in prep for installing whatever it is they're selling. I then give them the address to my local police station. Let the bugger whom shows up explain to the cops why they're there, whom they're employed by, & *exactly* how they got told to show up at that particular address.

      I'm posting this as AC because the robocallers have yet to figure out it's my number they call that prompts the arrests. *Cackle*

  11. alain williams Silver badge

    The ICO/government gets the fine ...

    should not money be going as compensation to those who were disturbed? See a nice illustration of the cost of an interruption to a techie.

  12. adam payne Silver badge

    The ICO also noted as an aggravating factor that the firm had failed to engage in the investigation.

    The director has also attempted to have the biz struck off the Companies House register – a move that the ICO said it had blocked.

    Sounds like this is another company that goes under within a month of being fined only for another company to pop into existence. It's a merry go round.

  13. Velv Silver badge
    Coat

    Why have we not got MPs demanding that the networks log all calls from these criminals so they can be tracked and prosecuted properly (not just the ICO)?

    Many MPs seem to believe it is a simple task to log and record all the public's communications at the network, so surely it must be simple to log this traffic too?

  14. 0laf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    If they would kindly give the "I believe you've been in an accident" lot a kick in the bollocks I'd appreciate that.

  15. unwarranted triumphalism

    I see a lot of desk-jockeys calling for vigilante 'justice'

    ... but that Batman costume you're trying on in front of the mirror doesn't fit very well, does it?

    1. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: I see a lot of desk-jockeys calling for vigilante 'justice'

      Think we've ID'd the director...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A more suitable punishment would be to make it law that the company directors mobile and home phones must be made public and passed to everyone that received a call from their company. They are also not allowed to change those numbers and must answer at least 500 calls a day for 6 months between the hours which their company made calls. This can be checked using mystery shoppers from the ICO and if they deviate they automatically serve 3 months in jail.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Revenge

    Publish the phone numbers of all family members of directors, managers and staff. For each call they make publish their numbers on spam and sucker lists.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This doesn't seem that hard to fix. So...

    1. Not many of these calls are going to politicians homes.

    2. Too many politicians are very cozy with the spammers...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    there's a silver lining

    we gave up BT landline. Never been happier. Thank you spammers, thank you thousandfold! And BT be on you, your wives and your wives' gardeners' wives!

    1. 0laf Silver badge

      Re: there's a silver lining

      My parents have just moved to BT and are very pleased with the call blocking options

  20. Gerry 3
    FAIL

    Ofcom is to blame

    Why doesn't the utterly useless Ofcom insist that all telcos make 1477 (Automatic Call Trace) available free of charge to all subscribers, together with Anonymous Call Reject and Caller Display ?

    Dialling 1477 during or after a nuisance call is far quicker than laboriously messing around trying to report them to the ICO's website, which is obviously a waste of time when the number has been withheld or spoofed. 1477 isn't fooled by any of this, it stores the REAL originating number at the victim's exchange for subsequent investigative action.

    But most telcos have never heard of 1477 and don't make it available, and as usual Ofcom the toothless watchdog is still happily dozing in front of the fire.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Ofcom is to blame

      "Anonymous Call Reject and Caller Display ?"

      The problem there is so many people you need to call you still use number withheld, eg Schools, NHS, etc., which can affect the most vulnerable people the most if blocks. Likewise, Call Display doesn't often help because even calls coming from out of country will present what appears to be a local, usually invalid, number at worst, at best, something that looks very like a UK number.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Gerry 3

        Re: Ofcom is to blame

        Agreed, Caller Display isn't a magic bullet, but call blocking hardware won't work without it. Anonymous Call Reject is almost a magic bullet because it blocks many unwanted calls without requiring expensive hardware.

        The point I'm making is that victims need all the help they can get to block and report fraudulent / nuisance calls, but Ofcom and the ICO are just a waste of space. They shouldn't allow telcos to blackmail vulnerable telephone users into buying expensive network services that cost the telcos nothing to provide.

        It's daft that the health service withholds numbers on data protection grounds: when they send letters, the envelope shows the patient's name and shouts NHS all over it, so they clearly haven't thought it through.

        To avoid having calls rejected, they should follow BT's good practice and use a Presentation Number that when called says "The NHS tried to call you, but don't worry, we'll call again if necessary". Or if they're really concerned about privacy, it could just say "We tried to call you..." or "Sorry, this number does not accept incoming calls".

  21. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Just name and identify the private phone numbers of this director scum

    That'll learn it

  22. tony benton

    Nuisance calls

    It's OK to give hefty fines but make it a criminal offence that has to be defended in usual way.

    All concerned (everybody) get from suspended to 5 years.

    Unfortunately we have not got the prison space.

    1. Geoff May (no relation)

      Re: Nuisance calls

      All concerned (everybody) get from suspended to 5 years

      Shouldn't that be:

      All concerned (everybody) get from 5 years to suspended?

      Or were you not referring to hanging?

  23. Phil Bennett

    Company merry-go-round

    A friend of mine had office space in a building which also hosted a scummy marketing company. It was a group of people (I think about 10) who folded their company at the first sign of trouble, usually 12-18 months in, then the next person in the group set up a new company doing the same thing. Even if one of them was banned from being a company director, that only lasts a certain length of time (7 years?) so they were always clear again by the time their turn came back round.

    Directors have to be personally liable for criminal acts, and that has to actually be enforced. The current situation is untenable - this company made enough calls to contact everyone in the UK, making the world a worse place, and nothing will be done about it. Again.

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