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Cold Calling Vultures On Pensions

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

GMB Call On Information Commissioners Office To Deal With Cold Callers Threatening Pensions Pots Of UK Savers

ICO should not hesitate to use its power to issue penalties of up to £500,000 where marketing calls or messages cause or have the potential to cause substantial damage or distress says GMB.

GMB commented on the statement from the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) that they are investigating claims that details of the pension pots of millions of people are being sold and ending up in the hands of cold callers. See notes to editors for statement by ICO and reports on Press Association.

Phil McEvoy, GMB National Pensions Officer, said: "This is a worrying example of the activities that look certain to accompany the new freedoms on pensions. 

History does not look kindly on pension deregulation with the mis-selling scandals of 25 years ago showing that freedoms can simply induce a feeding frenzy amongst the scavengers seeking to deprive savers of their money. 

It looks like the vultures are coming home to roost again. It is imperative that the ICO as regulator throw the book at anyone threatening the future finances of UK's pensioners.

ICO should not hesitate to use its power to issue penalties of up to £500,000 where marketing calls or messages cause or have the potential to cause substantial damage or distress."

End

Contact: Phil McEvoy 07918 768773 or GMB press office 07974 252 823 or 07921 289880

Notes to editors

1 statement by ICO spokesperson:

“We’re aware of allegations raised against several companies involved in the cold calling sector, and will be making enquiries to establish whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.”

2 Copies of reports on cold calling on Press Association:

Report dated 30 March.

WARNING OVER PENSION DATA SALES

An investigation has been launched into claims millions of people's pension pot details are being sold and ending up in the hands of criminals.

Pensioners' salaries, the value of their investments and the size of their pensions are being sold for as little as 5p without their consent, the Daily Mail reports.

The financial details are allegedly being bought by fraudsters and cold-calling firms.

Watchdog vows action on cold calls

31 Mar 2015 - 12:35

By Josie Clarke and Vicky Shaw, Press Association

Tracking down those who act illegally in the cold-calling sector is an "increasingly difficult job" but the privacy watchdog said it will robustly investigate claims about the sale of confidential data.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into claims made by the Daily Mail that firms are sharing sensitive personal data such as pension details and medical records.

The names of 3,000 sick and disabled people were sold to undercover reporters for 19p each, according to the Daily Mail.

No checks were made on who the reporters - posing as a cold-calling outfit - really were, the newspaper said.

The revelations about an alleged trade in medical records follow the Mail's claims that pensioners' salaries, the value of their investments and the size of their pensions are being sold for as little as 5p without their consent.

The financial details are allegedly being bought by fraudsters and cold-calling firms.

Dave Clancy, the ICO's anti-spam investigation team manager, said investigating cold-calling firms was an "increasingly difficult job" because of offshore operations and tactics such as spoof numbers.

But he said the organisation would use its "best endeavours", and recent prosecutions showed it had the ability to bring those acting illegally to justice.

"The ICO will look at these allegations and our knowledge of the industry and consider if these practices are in breach of regulations," Mr Clancy said.

The ICO can issue fines of up to £500,000 for the most serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, while it can also pursue criminal prosecutions around unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data.

It is now looking to establish whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

Tony Neate, chief executive of national internet safety initiative Get Safe Online, a joint partnership between bodies such as the Government and the National Crime Agency, said the matter should be treated as a "highest priority" and if necessary there should be a change in the law.

Mr Neate said some people may inadvertently agree to have their information passed on to a third party when filling out a form.

He said: "I honestly wonder if I've fallen foul of it myself.

"If you're putting down personal information, if you're putting down health information, why would you share it with anyone else? Why is the tick box even there? It's absolutely appalling, if the industry doesn't get this right, then legislation needs to be brought about."

With new pension freedoms enabling people to cash in their pensions coming into force next week, warnings have been sounded that older people become particular targets for scams involving cold calls or texts.

Experts at the ICO previously warned that the pension reforms on April 6 could result in a flood of scams on the scale of "the next PPI scandal".

People receiving cold calls about pensions have been advised to put the phone down, but Mr Neate said consumers can also turn the tables on the cold callers - by initially pretending to be interested and listening to what information they hold about them and, without giving any more personal information away to the caller, finding out who they are in order to report them.

Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown said: "People may inadvertently agree to a firm selling their details to others when they sign up for other services. This shows the importance of choosing the firms you work with carefully. A good starting point is to only deal with regulated firms and to check what their policy is on client data."

Hargreaves Lansdown said people can be "absolutely assured" that it does not sell client data to third parties.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which? said the ICO must send a "clear message" by using its powers on companies cold calling about pensions.

Which? said consumers can complain about nuisance calls and texts to bodies including the Telephone Preference Service, the phone operator, Ofcom (which covers silent and abandoned calls) or the ICO.

The ICO's head of enforcement Steve Eckersley said yesterday: "We will be launching an investigation immediately."

Mr Eckersley added: "To think such information could be in the hands of unscrupulous businesses looking to profit from it sends a shiver down the spine."

The Mail said that medical data which has allegedly been sold included details of thousands of people suffering with diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, back pain and arthritis.

The data named even those suffering from embarrassing bladder problems, as well as those who are hard of hearing, who could be more vulnerable to scams.

The newspaper said undercover reporters were able to buy these sensitive details for 3,000 sick or disabled people for less than £600 - just 19p a record.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory chair of the health select committee, called for those caught selling medical data without consent to face jail.

She told the newspaper: "It is appalling that people can buy the most sensitive medical information."

A company named in the Mail's first report said it would welcome an ICO investigation and co-operate fully with it.

In a statement, B2C Data Limited said: "B2C Data Limited is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and is a member of the Direct Marketing Association. It operates an entirely legitimate and legally-compliant data business.

"It complies with all its legal requirements. Importantly, it does not receive or process information other than in respect of those customers of its members who have opted in. Equally, it does not sell 'highly sensitive details of ... salaries, investments and pensions'."

The statement said the company was "appalled" by the reporting in the Daily Mail, which contained "numerous factual errors and exaggerations".

It continued: "While B2C is consulting with its legal advisers, it welcomes an investigation by the ICO into these matters and it will co-operate fully with any investigation. B2C Data takes its legal obligations very seriously and will continue to do so."

ends

Key questions on cold calls

31 Mar 2015 - 12:50

By Josie Clarke, Press Association Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Is the selling and buying of personal data legal?

It can be, depending on what permissions are sought by companies buying it and given by those it belongs to.

The Information Commissioner's Office says it is investigating what people were told would happen to their information at the point of collection and if they were informed it would be shared with third parties - and the relevance of those third parties to the information they acquired.

Why do third parties want personal data?

Personal information such as age, income, living circumstances and the all-important contact details are extremely valuable to companies who want to target their products directly to the correct demographic.

Why do older people tend to find themselves suffering unsolicited approaches more than other age groups?

Older people are far more likely to own a landline and be home during the day. The ICO's Dave Clancy says a landline is often a lifeline for older people who are less likely to use mobiles or the internet, allowing them contact with family and friends. But Mr Clancy says the ICO hears too often that these people are now fearful of the phone.

What are cold calls?

Unwanted phone calls - or cold calls - are one of the UK's most hated marketing tactics. Cold calls or nuisance texts are made by businesses that have had no prior contact with the recipient, with the purpose of convincing potential customers to buy the service or product.

Who makes them?

An increasing range of companies make cold calls, and regulators warn that the problem is shifting away from large organisations to smaller businesses, based in the UK and abroad. Companies that have hit the headlines for cold calling range from those offering PPI compensation to debt relief, insurance, solar panels and other energy-related products.

How many people are affected?

The ICO says it is receiving "several tens of hundreds" of complaints about cold calls and nuisance texts each month.

It received 161,720 concerns about nuisance calls and texts in 2013 - more than twice the number of people who filled the World Cup final stadium last summer.

Why is it so difficult to stop the problem?

The ICO has previously been required to attribute at least several hundred calls to one company to prove "substantial damage or distress". But it says this has become difficult as the problem has shifted away from the big companies to smaller companies, many more of whom are making smaller numbers of calls.

So consumers are receiving increasing numbers of calls from increasing numbers of companies, but the ICO is having a harder job to match enough calls to a single company to secure a prosecution.

The ICO levied a fine of £300,000 against Manchester-based Tetrus Telecoms in 2011 but the decision was reversed on appeal as no substantial harm or distress had been shown. The watchdog warned the ruling left it almost powerless to deter such companies, regardless of the number of calls they are generating.

What are the current penalties?

The ICO has the power to issue penalties of up to £500,000 if it is able to prove that the marketing calls or messages caused, or had the potential to cause, "substantial damage or distress".

The ICO has called for this bar to be lowered, and last month the Government announced that imposing fines is to become easier under changes to the law.

 

 

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