Complaints about spam text messages to privacy watchdog rocket over the last few months, with the ICO receiving 1,008 from victims this year already
With the number of spam texts to mobile phones rocketing, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is urging people to note down the numbers and the nature of the offer.
Armed with this information they can contact their mobile provider with the evidence. If this doesn't stop the spam they can get in contact with the ICO, which is investigating the issue.
Simon Entwisle, ICO director of operations, told Computeractive that during the year 2008/09, the ICO received 354 complaints from people about marketing messages.
So far this year it has already received 1,008; many of which mean a company is breaching the Privacy and Electronic Communications (PECR) Directive.
Entwisle said that although the ICO has had some success in talking to companies involved in this racket, the evidence the watchdog had uncovered showed "a murky world" and there needs to be more awareness among the public.
"We are trying hard to track down these companies but their systems are automated and they change SIMs quickly so it is difficult to catch them in the act. People can report these messages to us and we can compare the blocks of SIMs being used by these companies," he told us.
The problem for the ICO is that sending spam is not a criminal offence. Entwisle said that although there are many legitimate marketing companies using texts to send information, the real problem lies with less reputable companies.
Rather than gaining prior permission from the recipient, which is a requirement under PECR, these companies use computers to generate numbers randomly, sending hundreds of texts asking people to get in contact about services such as payment protection insurance (PPI), accident claims and debt consolidation.
As well as hunting down the spammers, the ICO is talking to the companies that buy the services.
"We are also talking to the claims management companies and solicitors that buy into these marketing companies' services. We point out that although they are one step removed from sending the texts they could still be a party to the breach of PECR. Many are not aware that these texts are breaching the law and are mortified, so part of our task is educating them," said Mr Entwistle.
The ICO can only fine these companies up to £500,000, but it is in talks with the Ministry of Justice.
This government department regulates claims management companies and if they are breaching the law it can revoke their licences.
The privacy watchdog has launched a page on its website giving advice to people plagued by these texts. This includes contacting your mobile provider with the number and information contained in the text. Mr Entwisle also advised people to avoid replying to the messages, not even to opt out.
"If these companies get a reply they know the phone number is live," he said.
People can also file a complaint with the ICO, but the watchdog said if a person hasn't replied to the message they should merely delete it after contacting their mobile provider.
"You should also contact the organisation concerned. Tell them about the problem and allow them time to put things right. In many cases, things can be resolved quickly without us getting involved. You can also call our helpline on 0303 123 1113 for advice about what you can do to resolve the matter," the ICO said.
Computeractive is also getting involved in investigating these companies by calling the numbers we get from spam texts. We will be handing over any information we get to the ICO to help in its investigations.
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