ICO announces progress in tracking down nuisance SMS

Almost 70% of mobile owners have received nuisance texts
Kerry Butters

December 9, 2011

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have announced that there has been “significant progress made in identifying those responsible for sending spam texts.”

An investigation into spam SMS has been ongoing since the beginning of this year and the ICO say that their research shows that 95% of consumers find such text either “inconvenient, concerning or distressing.”

The ICO have been working alongside the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom, the OFT, the Direct Marketing Association and mobile carriers in an attempt to identify the people behind the nuisance texts.

Texts such as these include those for accident claims and are little more than phishing schemes, as they target randomly generated numbers.

ICO enquiries have discovered that the messages are sent from unregistered SIMs and they have been working with mobile operators in order to find out where the texts originate from.

This has led to one search warrant being executed at a location where it was found that a large cluster of messages were being sent from. The ICO confirmed that there are plans to carry out more raids and that visits have already been made to numerous locations.

The ICO also state that they have met with lead generation and claims management companies in order to check where they are obtaining customer data, and all of the firms asked so far have claimed that they obtain information lawfully.

The investigation has led to another relating to insurance companies in which major insurers have been asked to “undergo an audit of their data protection practices.”

“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,” said Director of Operations, Simon Entwisle.

“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.”

Nuisance texts seem to have been a problem for many as a survey carried out by the ICO showed that 681 out of 1014 people had received such texts.

Many people expressed concern as to how the senders had obtained their details and 61 siad that “the text had caused them substantial damage or distress.”

Nearly half of those asked described the texts as “sinister and an unwanted nuisance” and furthermore called the perpetrators “vultures” whilst admitting that they thought the texts were essentially fraudulent and a way of “data gathering by deception.”

Whilst many of those surveyed said that they had received texts relating to accident compensation claims, others included PPI claims and debt settlement texts.

“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,’” Entwistle went on to explain.

“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.”

Texts such as these breach privacy rules which the ICO regulate and companies found to be in breach of the regulations could face fines of up to £500,000.


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