The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined a marketing company £250,000 for making over 365,000 nuisance calls asking people about accidents and pretending to be from their insurer.
The ICO said it had blocked three attempts by Pownall Marketing Limited (PML) to strike itself off the register at Companies House and avoid regulatory action.
The nuisance calls PML made between January and May 2019, in breach of the ban on unsolicited calls for direct marketing purposes in relation to claims management services, generated 63 complaints.
The law banning claims management nuisance calls, contained in regulation 21A of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, has been in force since September 2018.
In its penalty notice, the ICO said PML, based in Manchester, was not registered as a claims management company with the Financial Conduct Authority.
PML told the watchdog that it had been acting as a ‘marketing agent’ for a company in India.
A copy of a script quoted by the ICO went: “The reason for the call today is we believe you have consented to receive a marketing call in relation to a road traffic accident you’ve been involved in over the last 3 years. Is this correct?
“OK, so what I can do for you today to get this explained in as much detail as possible, I can get you through to one of our closers who will run through some simple criteria and if you meet this we can then send you through to a solicitor who can then deal with the claim for you.”
The ICO did not reveal which solicitors would receive any referrals.
Examples of the “misleading tactics” used by the company often included the claim that the person making the call was from the householder’s insurance company.
Complaint extracts published by the ICO included: “Started by pretending to be from my insurance company saying it was a courtesy call to see how my claim was going.”
Another complainant said: “The caller tried to trick me with false information regarding a biking accident.”
Another spoke of the caller “trying to convince me that there is a payment waiting for me for a sum that is way less than I will be getting for the accident”.
The ICO said PML first came to its attention after complaints were made both to it and to the Telephone Preference Service about unsolicited direct marketing calls.
PML made a total of over 554,000 unauthorised calls between January and May 2019, of which over 365,000 were answered.
The ICO described this first unsuccessful attempt by PML to get itself struck off as a “cynical attempt to avoid regulatory action” and said it was an aggravating feature of the case.
Another was the “misleading sales practices” and “allusions to being aligned with legitimate insurance companies”.
The ICO invited PML to make representations to a ‘notice of intent’, but there was no reply, and had also “failed to file any company accounts since its incorporation in November 2018”. This meant the regulator was unable to assess its financial status.
If the company fails to pay its £250,000 fine, the ICO’s financial recovery unit will seek to recover the debt.
Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO, said: “Despite this company’s attempt to formally cease trading, we continued with our enforcement action due to the seriousness of the contraventions, and because we can take further action against the director.”