The UK data watchdog has fined five companies a total of £405,000 ($528,669) for making over 750,000 predatory and unwanted marketing calls targeting the elderly.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found that these firms were calling people to sell insurance products or services for white goods and other large household appliances, such as televisions, washing machines and fridges.
One elderly person had their savings whittled down from £8,000 to £500 in just over a month, while another elderly person with short term memory loss was being charged £500 a month for insurance they mostly did not need.
The calls targeted older people as these companies bought marketing data lists from third parties, specifically asking for personal information about people who are aged 60 and over, homeowners and with landline numbers.
The investigation was launched after ICO received complaints from the public and organisations including Action Fraud, Trading Standards, the consumer group Which? and the call blocker provider trueCall.
Many of the complainants said the people receiving the calls were vulnerable, with some suffering with dementia or other underlying health conditions.
Three of these companies are based in the Sussex area and two in London.
Domestic Support, based in Littlehampton, West Sussex, made 69,133 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), between January 2020 and July 2020. The company has been fined £80,000.
Live marketing calls cannot be made to anyone who has registered with TPS, unless they have told the caller that they wish to receive such calls from them.
Home Sure Solutions, based in Hove, East Sussex, made 229,483 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with TPS between March 2020 and September 2020. The firm has been fined £100,000.
Seaview Brokers, based in Chichester, West Sussex, made 4,737 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS in June 2020 and has been fined £15,000.
UK Appliance Cover, based in London, made 39,167 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between June 2020 and December 2020, which resulted in a £100,000 fine.
UK Platinum Home Care Services, based in London, made 412,556 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and October 2020, resulting in more than 50 complaints being made. The company has been fined £110,000.
In one case, Julie, from Yorkshire, said her elderly brother was a target of nuisance callers selling white goods insurance.
She said: “Last year my older brother said he was receiving a high number of nuisance calls. He asked me to take a look at his finances as he had concerns. 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 £300.
“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.”
John Edwards, UK Information commissioner, said: “These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain.
“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."
The ICO also issued these five companies with enforcement notices that require them to immediately stop making these predatory calls.
Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: “It is unacceptable that unscrupulous firms are targeting older, vulnerable people and pressuring them into buying rip-off appliance cover that they don’t need — so it is positive that the ICO is taking action on this issue.
"Which? has been warning about rogue firms cold-calling people about insurance for white goods or other household appliances for years and has reported over 100 firms to the ICO and Trading Standards.
“If you or someone you know has been cold-called about appliance cover, ask for the company name and report it to the ICO. If you are being inundated with cold calls, ask your phone network about the call blocking services it offers.”
The ICO is continuing to investigate a number of other companies — in addition to the five fined today — that appear to be operating in the same way.
“Companies making similar nuisance calls and causing harm to people can expect a strong response from my office. 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,” the UK Information commissioner said.