A Hove call centre responsible for millions of nuisance calls a day has been raided and documents and computer equipment seized.
The firm was using automatic dialling technology to make between four and six million recorded calls every day, offering debt management or payment protection insurance.
The calls were made anonymously and without consent, and it was impossible to opt out of receiving them. The company reportedly bombarded more than 90 million phone users with its calls. While the initial contact was always a 'robocall', anyone expressing an interest by pressing the number nine on their phone would be contacted by one of 50 call centre workers.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) acted after hundreds of complaints, many from vulnerable or old people who felt threatened by the calls. Another site in Maidenhead thought to host the company's servers has also been raided.
"It is astounding to think this one small company has the ability to pester millions of people with unwanted calls on a huge scale," says ICO enforcement team manager David Clancey.
"Thanks to this raid we have seized information that will enable us to discover where this organisation is sourcing their data and prevent them from selling it to third parties. The rules on making recorded messages are clear, and if the evidence proves the law has been broken we will act."
Research last year found that the average Brit receives six unwanted marketing calls a week. Nearly nine in ten phone users receive calls from withheld numbers, with 40% receiving them at least once a week and 9% at least once a day. Many people are forced to unplug their phones to avoid them.
Next month, however, the rules on marketing calls are due to change, making it easier for the ICO to prosecute. While the law currently requires proof that a company has caused 'substantial damage or substantial distress' with its calls, that requirement will be removed.
The government also plans to look at introducing measures to hold board-level executives responsible for nuisance calls and texts.
"For far too long companies have bombarded people with unwanted marketing calls and texts, and escaped punishment because they did not cause enough harm," says digital economy minister Ed Vaizey.
"This change will make it easier for the Information Commissioner's Office to take action against offenders and send a clear message to others that harassing consumers with nuisance calls or texts is just not on."
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