Company selling ‘anti-cold calling hardware’ is fined – for cold calling

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) regularly, but in our opinion not regularly enough, takes enforcement action and imposes fines on firms who illegally call telephone numbers registered on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) , the national “Do Not Call Me” database.

Most IPS Members opted to join the TPS register knowing that doing so makes it illegal for firms to call you about sales or marketing if you don’t know them or haven’t given them your consent to do so.

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Although TPS is not yet a flawless concept, millions of people have benefitted and found it is a great way to reduce the number of  unwanted cold calls you receive.  (For more information on how it works, see our recent interview with the TPS).  Crucial too, its usefulness is law.  It is compulsory for all legitimate firms to abide by the rules or be held to account by the ICO.

A recent ICO enforcement case piqued our interest.  Yes Consumer Solutions, based in Hove, was fined £170,000 pounds for illegally calling nearly 200,000 TPS registered numbers. 

It won’t surprise you that most companies found to be in breach of the TPS rules around calling consumers tend to be selling goods and services in an unscrupulous way.  Often, these firms are selling energy saving or solar products and warranty insurance. It is not that all companies selling insulation, double glazing and the like are illegitimate but those product category types do tend to attract unethical call centres sales businesses who can ‘close’ sales over the phone.

However, that’s not what Yes Consumer Solutions was selling.  Unbelievably they were selling call blocking devices.

IPS are fans of call blocking devices, like those recommended and provided to vulnerable consumers by our friends at National Trading Standards.   Call blockers do have limitations, with the most obvious being that the hardware only works with landline numbers rather than mobiles.  However, they can make a massive difference and free people from the curse of scams and nuisance calls.  They provide reassurance and comfort for family members who do not live with them old and vulnerable relatives.

So, Yes Consumer Solutions were in the unpleasant position of promoting something that we think can help protect people from the worse sort of invasive marketing and scam calls by using tactics that amount to just that.  They were making unwanted and illegal sales phone calls to customers who have expressly attempted to avoid those sort of calls by registering with the TPS.

Yes Consumer Solutions claims to have sold over 12,000 of its devices.  Some firms seem to disregard the rules about making sales and marketing calls through, inexcusable, ignorance.  But Yes Consumer Solutions, given the market it is in, cannot possibly have failed to understand how the TPS works.

 

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What conclusions should we draw from this case?
  1. First of all it shows that crime doesn’t always pay.  In Yes Consumer Solutions’ case their crime comes at a cost of £170,000.
  2. The case was built from just 13 complaints from members of the public to the ICO and TPS.  It is good to know that your complaints help build a case against these bad actors.
  3. The fine was large because of the ‘repetitive nature of the offence and the provision of misleading information to individuals about the blocking services’.
  4. The TPS does provides a very useful service in reducing unwanted sales and marketing calls from legitimate firms, as many IPS Members will testify.  But it is still pretty powerless when it comes to combatting unethical call centres.  That is why IPS is campaigning for central government and the various agencies involved in regulating communications (and protecting consumers) to collaborate so that they make better use of modern technology to properly tackle nuisance marketers and scammers at source.  How can we stop their calls so they don’t get through to citizens who continue to dread the phone ringing?

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