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Significant progress made in spam texts investigation says ICO

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The Information Commissioner’s Office

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8 December 2011

‘Significant progress’ has been made in identifying those responsible for sending spam texts, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said today. The update comes as figures from the ICO’s consumer survey show that 95% of people find spam texts either inconvenient, concerning or distressing.

The ICO’s investigation into accident claim spam texts and other similar messages began in early 2011. The ICO has since been working with other bodies including the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom, the OFT, the Direct Marketing Association and mobile phone networks to try to identify the people behind them.

Enquiries by the ICO established early on that the messages are being sent from unregistered pay as you go SIM cards. Telecommunications providers have worked to trace the locations from which large clusters of messages are being sent. So far, the ICO has executed one search warrant and has plans to carry out more. Visits have also been carried out at a number of locations.

Investigators have also met with various lead generation and claims management companies to ask them where they are obtaining their customer data from. All of the companies are insisting that that the information they receive has been – as far as they are aware – obtained lawfully.

A separate strand of work relating to insurance companies’ general handling of personal data also began in June 2011 following a complaint made by Jack Straw MP. As part of this, the ICO has asked all of the major insurers to undergo an audit of their data protection practices. So far three companies have agreed and others are considering the offer.

Commenting on the investigation so far, Director of Operations, Simon Entwisle, said:

“Significant progress has been made in tracking down who is responsible for sending these nuisance messages. We’ve raided one office, visited various others and are still actively working with mobile phone networks to trace various locations. We’ve also been doing some important work to engage with insurance companies and are pleased that some of them are willing to undergo a data protection audit. We continue to work to encourage more of these companies to open their doors to us.

“This is an ongoing challenge; we have a good idea about who is behind the messages and we continue to gather evidence to enable us to take enforcement action. So far these individuals have managed to cover their tracks but we’d encourage anyone with information to come forward.”

The ICO also today published the results of its spam text survey. Over 1,000 people responded to give details of the messages they were receiving. Of the 1014 respondents, 681 people said that receiving a text caused them concern. They felt troubled about why they had received the text and how their details had been obtained. 205 people said that it was inconvenient, while 61 respondents said the text had caused them substantial damage or distress.

Almost half of respondents took the opportunity to describe how they felt about the messages. The texts were described as ‘sinister’ and ‘an unwanted nuisance.’ Those sending them were termed ‘vultures’ and accused of ‘fraud’ and ‘data gathering by deception.’ A selection of the comments and stories that individuals submitted can be found on the ICO’s website here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/news/current_topics/spam_text_survey_comments.aspx

Simon Entwisle continued:

“There is also clearly a lot to be gained in raising public awareness about these messages. People need to realise that the numbers are randomly generated and that they shouldn’t respond, even when encouraged to text back ‘stop.’ One particular concern is the distress these texts may be causing to vulnerable people. Our survey has shown that 12 people found the texts helpful and had used the service it offered - unfortunately that may be enough incentive for the individuals behind this to carry on sending them.”

The most prevalent spam texts related to accident compensation claims with 794 of the survey’s respondents having received one. The survey also found that 439 people had received a payment protection insurance text and 360 had received a debt settlement text.

The spam text survey will continue as it has given the ICO valuable insight into the effect the messages have had on people. It can be found on the website here: http://www.snapsurveys.com/swh/surveylogin.asp?k=131644621878

Sending an unsolicited message – otherwise know as a spam text – breaches the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which the ICO is responsible for regulating. The ICO can serve a monetary penalty of up to £500,000 in the most serious cases. Further information can be found here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/guidance_index/~/media/documents/library/Privacy_and_electronic/Practical_application/guide_to_privacy_and_electronic_communications.ashx

Further information on spam texts – including what people should do if they receive one – is available on the ICO’s website here: http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/marketing/texts.aspx

If you need more information, please contact the ICO press office on 0303 123 9070 or visit the website at: www.ico.gov.uk.

Notes

  1. The Information Commissioner’s Office upholds information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  1. The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
  1. The ICO is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and produces a monthly e-newsletter. Our For the media page provides more information for journalists.
  1. Anyone who processes personal information must comply with eight principles of the Data Protection Act, which make sure that personal information is:
  • Fairly and lawfully processed
  • Processed for limited purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and up to date
  • Not kept for longer than is necessary
  • Processed in line with your rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred to other countries without adequate protection

About the Author

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. We do this by promoting good practice, ruling on complaints, providing information to individuals and organisations and taking appropriate action when the law is broken.

The ICO enforces and oversees the following legislation:

  •  Data Protection Act 1998
  •  Freedom of Information Act 2000
  •  Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003
  •  Environmental Information Regulations 2004



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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2011-12-08 14:10:31 in Computer Articles

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