Cold-callers forced out from the shadows
Telemarketers, payment protection insurance (PPI) claims handling companies, and other cold callers are no longer allowed to disguise or hide their phone numbers under new rules brought in today.
Companies must now display their numbers when calling consumers in the UK, even if they are based overseas.
The move is part of a co-ordinated crackdown on nuisance calls by the government, telecoms regulator Ofcom, and consumer protection groups.
If firms break the new rules, the worst offenders could be fined £2 million by Ofcom, plus further fines of £500,000 by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which enforces data protection laws.
When the new rules were confirmed in April, Baroness Neville Rolfe, minister for data protection, said: “We’re sending a clear message to rogue direct marketing companies. Nuisance calls are unacceptable and we will not hesitate to take action against the companies behind them.”
Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO added: “We do investigate unscrupulous companies who hide their identities, and we can track them down, but it certainly makes our job more difficult. But when people are able to identify the number behind the call they’ve received, they’re more likely to complain to us and that means we’re more able to take action.
Recent fines issued by the ICO include:
- A £50,000 fine for Brexit campaigners Better for the Country, which had sent half a million unsolicited texts.
- A £20,000 fine for Advice Direct, which used a fake local number while marketing a service that it said would help people claim damages for hearing loss.
- A £175,000 fine for Falcon & Pointer, a PPI claims company, which made two million automated calls to consumers, even though it had already had its data-handling licence revoked following an earlier intervention by the ICO.
Payment protection insurance is designed to cover you should you fall ill, have an accident or lose your job and can’t make repayments on loans or credit cards. However, research by consumer watchdogs found the cover to be overpriced, filled with exclusions (policies exclude self-employment, contract employees and pre-existing medical conditions) and were often mis-sold because the exclusions were never fully explained. In May 2011, the High Court ruled banks had knowingly mis-sold PPI and ordered them to compensate around two million consumers.