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8 June 2021

A used car dealer based in Stoke-On-Trent have been fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) a total of £170,000 for sending spam text messages directing people to a number of car finance websites.

The dealer sent out text messages between October 2018 and January 2020 directing consumers to a number of car finance websites.

In its representations to the ICO, the car dealer replied upon a notice below the application form on its website which stated that by submitting an application the customer agree to being contacted by the firm or a third party by post, phone, email or SMS.

The ICO found that there was “no specific reference to direct marketing within this statement, or indeed any indication of the purpose of the contact from these unnamed third parties. Furthermore, it did not appear possible for an individual to select who they may or may not wish to be contacted by; to specify which, if any, of the methods proposed they may wish to be contacted by; or to proceed with their application without agreeing to this statement”. Additionally, the ICO held that the car dealer could not rely upon a “soft opt-in” exemption provided by Regulation 22 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 (PECR). This exemption means that organisations can send marketing messages by text and email to individuals whose details had been obtained in the course or negotiation of a sale and in respect of similar products and services.

The ICO found the car dealerships was in breach of  PECR and levied the fine following its investigation. The ICO obtained evidence by way of complaints by consumers who had received text messages from the company.

It’s extremely important that firms ensure they have the proper consent to contact consumers and that they have a robust and thorough Privacy Policy and privacy notices clearly setting out to consumers how their data will be used and by whom.

A copy of the penalty notice is available on the ICO’s website. 

By Ian Beardmore

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