ICO fines fail to stop SMS spammers

Today, 24 September 2020 the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) announced that it had fined Digital Growth Experts Limited (DGEL) £60,000 for sending thousands of nuisance marketing SMS text messages  at the height of the pandemic.

The SMS spammer sent 16,190 texts to people who did not consent to receiving them. They were sent by DGEL between 29 February and 30 April 2020 promoting a hand sanitising product that claimed to be “effective against coronavirus”. The ICO commissioner believes that the contravention may have totalled 17,241 text messages being sent over the relevant period.

“Is this fine enough?” No. I made a Freedom of Information Act request recently and found that in the year 2019-2020 the ICO issued fines totalling £2,555,000. However, despite this large amount, only £280,000 has been collected successfully by the ICO.

A fine job?

Although a 20% reduction can be applied when repayment is made within a specific time frame, and there are some appeals, the figures for 2018-2019 are not much better. Fines issued totalled £4,838,000 and a total of £3,174,200 was paid. Even if ALL the companies fined were given a 20% discount and a 100% collection rate, that would be a total of £3,870,400, leaving at least £696,200 unpaid.

The ICO  should fine individual directors, rather than the company. A quick look at Companies House shows that the company was incorporated in November 2019 and has one director. The company’s Amazon page shows the unnecessarily expensive hand-sanitising product was listed in January 2020.

I reported on the Privacy watchdog fails on fines for data protection breaches in 2018.

Many companies fined by ICO will simply not pay the fine, shut down the company and then do it again under another company name. Again, the problem is a lack of personal liability and action by Government to stop this loophole!

Consumers who receive spam texts should report the message by sending it to 7726.