03Oct

Manchester-based finance broker Intelligent Lending, better known under its trading name of Ocean Finance, has been hit with a £130,000 fine by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The data protection regulator has also issued a Stop Now notice to the firm after it was found to have sent 7.7 million marketing texts regarding a new credit card being offered by a major lender. The recipients of these messages had not given consent in the correct manner and almost 2,000 consumers duly complained to the ICO or to the 7726 spam text reporting service.

Examples of the complaints received included:

“Very worried that my personal information is being handed around…I feel this is very stressful and am wondering who knows what about me.”

“I do not like to think of random companies that I have nothing to do with storing my details to intrude upon my life, offering me things I have no interest in. It makes me angry to think that they are obtaining or using my number illegally.”

The fine will be reduced to £104,000 if the firm does not appeal and pays the sum due by October 27, although it is in fact considering whether to appeal.

Under section 22 of the European Union’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, marketing texts can only be sent to people who have actively consented in advance to receiving such communications. Including an option to opt out of future texts within the message is not sufficient.

Unlike some of the more serious cases of spam texts the ICO has dealt with, Intelligent Lending had at least attempted to obtain written consent in advance. However, the watchdog believes that the wording used was “not clear and specific enough”.

Under the terms of the Stop Now notice, the firm could face prosecution if it sends more illegal marketing texts in the future.

Steve Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said:

“Company bosses everywhere should sit up and take note of this fine and check their practices are compliant with the law before embarking on marketing campaigns.

“It’s your responsibility to make rigorous checks to ensure personal data has been obtained fairly and lawfully. It’s not enough to rely on the word of a third party.”

He added:

“We have made it easier for people to report organisations responsible for unlawful marketing practices and they have in their thousands.”

A spokesperson for Intelligent Lending chose to concentrate on the relatively low numbers of people who complained, although of course the number of people annoyed by receiving the communication could have been much higher than the number who complained. The spokesperson for the firm said:

“We are sorry that a very small minority of consumers found our SMS marketing for the Ocean Credit Card last year unwelcome. The number of complaints made to the ICO represented 0.04 per cent of the recipients of these marketing messages.

“0.04% of 4,500,000 is 1,800. According to the ICO, more than 1,900 complaints were actually made regarding the mass-mailing.

“Our marketing campaign used data that we had purchased from a well-known provider of marketing data.

“We conducted extensive and thorough initial and ongoing due diligence with the provider before proceeding and we received written and contractual assurances that the data we purchased had the valid consent in line with applicable laws and regulations.

“We believe that we took all reasonable steps to ensure that the data we used was compliant with all the applicable laws and regulations – which is why we are considering appealing the ICO’s decision.

“We remain determined to operate at all times within both the spirit and the letter of the law and regulations.”

The information shown in this article was correct at the time of publication. Articles are not routinely reviewed and as such are not updated. Please be aware the facts, circumstances or legal position may change after publication of the article.