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ICO Clamps Down On Spam Texters

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ICO raids spam text office while survey finds 0.01 percent of people found spam texts useful

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) today said that it is making significant progress in identifying and apprehending spam texters.

Working with the Ministry of Justice, Ofcom, the OFT, the Direct Marketing Association and mobile phone networks, the ICO started an ongoing investigation early this year, and one search warrant has already been executed with more on the way.

Spammers hard to trace

The ICO has confirmed that messages are sent from unregistered pay as you go SIM cards and has enlisted telecommunications providers to trace the locations from which large clusters of messages are being sent.

“We’ve raided one office, visited various others and are still actively working with mobile phone networks to trace various locations,” said Simon Entwisle, director of operations.

“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,” he added.

Investigators also questioned lead generation and claims management companies on the source of their customer databases, which they insist was obtained lawfully.

In a separate, parallel investigation initiated by a complaint from Jack Straw MP, the ICO has also been looking into the general handling of personal data by insurance companies.

“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,” said the ICO in a statement.

The regulators also released the results of its spam text survey, which showed that 95 percent of people found spam texts to be either inconvenient, concerning or distressing, with many considering spam texters to be vultures who were commiting fraud by gathering data through deception.

Out of 1014 respondents, 681 people said that receiving a text caused them concern 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. Only 12 people said that they had found the texts helpful and had used the service it offered.

Unfortunately, according to Entwisle,  that may be enough incentive for spammers to carry on. “People need to realise that the numbers are randomly generated and that they shouldn’t respond, even when encouraged to text back stop.”

Sending an unsolicited message, or spam text, breaches Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which the ICO is responsible for regulating and can serve a monetary penalty of up to £500,000 in the most serious cases.