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UPDATE ICO Fine True Telecom £85K for Nuisance Calls and Impersonating BT

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017 (11:21 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 483)
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Kent based broadband ISP True Telecom, which is already in hot water with Ofcom over their handling of service migrations (here), has been fined £85,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for “making illegal nuisance calls” and giving “the impression they were from BT” (Openreach).

According to the ICO, True Telecom spent two years (between April 2015 and April 2017) calling people who were registered on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and those who had specifically asked the firm not to contact them. Some 201 people complained about this, with the ICO noting that the “calls were misleading because callers gave the impression they were from BT Openreach and the number was withheld.”

Steve Eckersley, the ICO’s Head of Enforcement, said:

“The rules around nuisance calls are clear. There’s no excuse for making marketing calls to people who have explicitly asked not to receive them. These calls are at best annoying and at worst downright distressing, and companies who pester the pubic in this way must understand they won’t get away with it. The ICO will take action.”

The commissioner has also issued a monetary penalty notice, which includes further details of the case, and told the company to stop its “illegal practices” or face court action. We suspect that this might not be the last time that the provider receives a fine.

Ofcom are also debating whether or not to impose a penalty against them after they found “reasonable grounds for believing” that True Telecom had breached several consumer protection rules, which related to their alleged mishandling of service migrations and contracts, including suspected SLAMMING.

The ICO’s penalty notice also includes a number of examples where the complainants claimed that True Telecom had been impersonating BT (Openreach). We suspect that BT won’t be too pleased about this sort of behaviour either.

Sample of the Call Complaints

Example 1 = “She said she was from Openreach and that they could offer me a cheaper deal than I was paying. Got very aggressive when I refused to give bank details.”

Example 2 = “Claimed to be BT Openreach initially, then mis-sold me a product without my permission (I said I’d think about it). I have also complained to Ofcom.”

However the ICO has also said that their fine could be reduced by 20% to £68,000, albeit only if the provider pays in full by 6th October 2017. On the other hand if True Telecom chooses to appeal then they will not benefit from the discount.

Apparently True Telecom claims to have collected the contact details by “data scraping” (i.e. going online and finding related information in the public domain). The ISP said they used TPS screening software alongside this, although they also say that some of the data was made available to an outbound sales team, which didn’t use the same checks (this occurred after the departure of a previous IT manager).

We have asked True Telecom for a comment and are awaiting their response.

Side Note: The ICO notes that True Telecom had been warned before (in 2014) after 50 people complained about True Telecom’s direct marketing calls. At the time the ICO proposed more of an educational approach rather than enforcement, which clearly didn’t have the desired effect.

UPDATE 12:15pm

The ISP has responded below.

A Spokesperson for True Telecom told ISPreview.co.uk:

“As an organisation who supplies communication services to business throughout the UK, we take TPS screening and Data Management extremely seriously.

It was identified that we suffered a technical issue within our TPS screening process which led to these unfortunate events occurring. We are extremely disappointed this system error led to the 201 businesses slipping through the net during the 2 year period. We would like to formally apologise to each of the 201 business that were affected by this system error and reconfirm that no intentional deviation from regulation has ever been intended.

We continually assess our processes and have heavily invested in a more robust solution which has completely eliminated the possibility of these types of issue reoccurring again in the future. To add some context, our outbound sales teams contacted over 5 million businesses during this period. We also note that in comparison to other cases of this nature, we feel the fine stated is somewhat disproportionate when considering other companies have been fined a lesser amount for over 100,000 individual cases Vs 201 True Telecom cases.

True telecom welcomes any and all guidance from ICO moving forwards and have been working very closely with them to ensure no more issues are experienced in the future.”

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7 Responses
  1. Steve Jones

    If this outfit is impersonating BT, where fraud charges considered? A regulatory slap on the wrist is on thing, but it this was a knowing policy then, perhaps, some criminal sanctions might be considered.

    Not I say if the policy was to knowingly give the impression the call was from BT. I’m not prejudging, but I would consider any such actions as tantamount to fraud.

    • Steve Jones

      Note, not “Not”…

    • Ultraspeedy

      Fraud as a criminal offence takes place only when you “secure unfair or unlawful gain”. The story unfortunately does not make clear why they were stating they were BT/Openreach.

      BT could perhaps consider a civil case if they can demonstrate that True Telecom were using their name for pretence to another or further fraudulent offence which could lead to unfair gain. Proving that in a civil case though is often difficult for numerous reasons.

      Lying about who you are or making false claims is not fraud in a criminal or civil sense… If i met you in the street and claimed i had once saw a shark with wings chasing a flying pig and i was the chief scientist that led the biological engineering that led to the 2 animals creation as a daft example is not fraud.

      That would be a hoax in legal sense which is deception without the intention of gain or of materially damaging or depriving a victim.

      Having said all that though i generally agree with your sentiment. The sooner this circus full of clowns is shut down the better. Ofcom seem to be going about it the right way IMO, rather than involve the courts and potentially argue for months if not years about who did or did not do what, just fine them over and over until they are financially cleaned out and can not continue.

      I doubt it will take long if they are already at the stage of having to make calls withholding their number and claiming someone else is calling, along with making life difficult for people to migrate away, and thinking a 85K fine is too much (they have thus far got off light compared to what could had been done)… They already reek of financial desperation.

      Crikey its a story where i agree with Ofcom and think what True Telecom have done to customers and BT is pretty low and scummy.

      I suspect i agree with you in most part about feelings towards the company also… Don’t worry ive called my private health care to provide enough oxygen for us both to get over that shock ; – )

    • Steve Jones

      @Ultraspeedy

      Why else would you impersonate another organisation unless it was for some commercial benefit to the organisation doing the impersonating? That seems like a prim-facia case, although the history of regulation is it’s proved much easier to levy a fine rather than deal with something that veers towards criminal behaviour. That involves lawyers, courts and the possibility of losing. So I can see why it’s the preferred course by a regulator, but I wonder how much of a deterrent it is.

      Of course I don’t know why they did the impersonating, but it is surely not for a good reason.

      As far as your example goes, the plainly loopy lies which don’t end up with any gain are clearly not the same thing. However, if I claimed to be a qualified electrician and got paid for rewiring somebody’s house and made a hash of it, then I suspect I’m not just liable for civil damages but very possibly fraud (that’s if the authorities could be bothered).

    • alan

      “Why else would you impersonate another organisation unless it was for some commercial benefit to the organisation doing the impersonating?”

      The story says they gave people the “impression” the were from Openreach, so they probably did not even directly claim they were Openreach just made it appear like they were. If the person they were calling directly asked so you are from Openreach and they said YES then it would be another matter.

      I suspect it was nothing more than clever social engineering. A simple example of this is If you take someone who is very poor who can barely afford a pair of jeans and put them in an Armani suit. You suddenly assume they are richer than they are. That is not fraud that is you just assuming things from the impression of a man in an expensive suit.

      The company is in no doubt playing close to the edges of the law in many regards, if they had any sense they would stop, trouble is catching them when they step over the edge.

    • Ultraspeedy

      “Why else would you impersonate another organisation unless it was for some commercial benefit to the organisation doing the impersonating?”

      The story does not make it clear so hard to say why they would or even if they did impersonate. I doubt they would want to hand over their script for the calls though.

      “That involves lawyers, courts and the possibility of losing. So I can see why it’s the preferred course by a regulator, but I wonder how much of a deterrent it is.”

      I agree to a point. I do not believe fines work for large companies. If it were say BT, Virgin, Talk Talk or Sky in this position, then even if you fined them £850,000 rather than the £85,000 true Telecom got and i believe it achieves nothing. To them it would not even be pocket change. Fine a small company that is not taking in literally millions each month and a few fines here and there can soon wipe them out. Punishment should fit not only the circumstance but who is involved.

      “As far as your example goes, the plainly loopy lies which don’t end up with any gain are clearly not the same thing. However, if I claimed to be a qualified electrician and got paid for rewiring somebody’s house and made a hash of it, then I suspect I’m not just liable for civil damages but very possibly fraud (that’s if the authorities could be bothered).”

      That is the problem though and certainly something we do not know about the situation. They may have been just telling “loopy lies which don’t end up with any gain” IE nothing more than a Hoax. I would imagine or hope that if Ofcom found their calling amounted to them actually claiming verbally to be Openreach and by doing so they made financial gain the first thing would of been a much higher fine than £85,000 and the second thing would had been to hand over their findings to the relevant authority.

      For a company of nearly any size £85,000 is certainly not a fine large or enough to stop them trading or hinder it, so i can only assume due to the amount its a fine for nuisance calling and their is nothing more sinister to it. Its more a slap on the wrist and here is a small punishment to make you think about what you did, akin to the naughty step or a older sibling tuting at wrong doing.

  2. captain.cretin

    Weasely words, “201” business’s affected.

    No, 201 upheld complaints; how many others did you pester who DIDNT complain to OFCOM??

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