Five companies that deliberately targeted the elderly with “predatory” and “coercive” marketing calls in order to sell them unnecessary insurance have been fined more than Â£400,000 by the UK’s privacy watchdog.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said the businesses had been purchasing marketing data lists of people who were aged 60 and over, were homeowners, and had landline phones.
Some of the victims of the calls had dementia according to the ICO, which added that the evidence suggested the companies may have been using the same marketing list to target their victims.
Some victims were found to have direct debits going out to more than a dozen companies, losing thousands of pounds for services and insurance which the callers knew they didn’t need.
Hundreds of thousands of coercive calls are being made by similar companies and the ICO said it is continuing to investigate the practice.
Victims, including some who were too elderly to arrange their own affairs, were made to feel ill by the pushy callers who sometimes were given bank card details by distressed victims just to be left alone.
Who was fined
Domestic Support Ltd based in Littlehampton, West Sussex, made 69,133 unwanted marketing calls while unlawfully identifying itself with different trading names.
Home Sure Solutions Ltd based in Hove, East Sussex, made 229,483 unwanted marketing calls to it knew were potentially elderly.
Seaview Brokers Ltd, based in Chichester, West Sussex, made 4,737 unwanted marketing calls.
UK Appliance Cover Ltd, based in London, made 39,167 unwanted and aggressive marketing calls which the ICO said targeted vulnerable people for financial gain, and did not provide any of the services which it claimed to be selling.
UK Platinum Home Care Services Ltd, based in London, made 412,556 unwanted marketing calls to people who it knew were potentially elderly homeowners.
Alongside the five companies that have been fined today the watchdog is continuing to investigate a number of other companies that it believes are operating in the same way.
The ICO put its investigation together assisted by numerous complaints which members of the public submitted to its online form.
Julie in Yorkshire said her elderly brother was receiving a high number of nuisance calls and asked her to look at his finances which he was concerned about.
“Almost immediately, I noticed a lot of monthly direct debits for white goods insurance policies. Some were duplicate payments for the same goods, and there were one-off payments worth Â£300,” she said.
“I was disgusted that my brother was being ripped off and targeted by nuisance callers. I made an appointment with his bank and, thankfully, they reimbursed the money lost.
“I also made a complaint to Action Fraud about these firms. It is extremely upsetting that my older brother has been preyed upon and manipulated by these rogue companies in his own home.”
Information Commissioner slams despicable companies
The Information Commissioner John Edwards told Sky News: “These are predatory actions which prey on the most vulnerable in society.
“It’s really despicable to be honest, getting a call in to a person who may be elderly and may have dementia, and selling them products of dubious worth at inflated prices,” he added.
In a statement, Mr Edwards said: “It is clear from the complaints we received that people felt frightened and distressed by the aggressive tactics of these companies, sometimes giving their financial details just so they could hang up the phone.
“This is unacceptable and clearly exploitative. It is only right that we take tough and prompt action to punish those companies responsible using our full powers.
“â€œCompanies making similar nuisance calls and causing harm to people can expect a strong response from my office,” added Mr Edwards.
“I encourage anyone who is being pestered by other rogue operators, or knows a family member or friend who is, to report them to the ICO and we will step in to protect the public from these invasive calls.”
Advice for members of the public
The ICO says to help friends and relatives stop predatory marketing calls, people can:
â€¢ Register landlines and mobile numbers with the Telephone Preference Service free of charge.
â€¢ Report any nuisance calls you continue to receive to the ICO using the online nuisance calls reporting tool.