Two owners of a marketing company have been fined a total of £440,000 after millions of unlawful spam texts were sent out over the last three years, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said.
The ICO said the penalty follows an 18-month investigation into Tetrus Telecoms, which is jointly owned by Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish.
The watchdog said it received intelligence in May 2011 that the company was sending huge volumes of unsolicited texts from offices in Stockport and Birmingham, without the consent of the recipient and without identifying the sender - both of which are legal requirements. Replies were used to generate leads that were sold on to other companies for profit.
The ICO's investigation included raids at the company's Stockport premises in August 2011, and at the Manchester home of Mr Niebel in February this year. Evidence obtained showed Tetrus was using unregistered pay-as-you go sim cards to send out as many as 840,000 illegal texts a day with an income of £7,000 to £8,000 a day, the ICO said.
The watchdog, which is carrying out a wider crackdown on illegal marketing, said it is currently considering issuing penalties to three other firms believed to be acting in breach of regulations. The body said it is the first time it has used its powers to impose a fine in this type of case.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: "The public have told us that they are distressed and annoyed by the constant bombardment of illegal texts and calls and we are currently cracking down on the companies responsible, using the full force of the law.
"In March we set up a survey on the ICO website so people can tell us about any unwanted texts and calls they have been receiving. So far we have received over 60,000 responses. We know the majority of these messages and calls have been made by companies who try to remain anonymous in the hope they can profit by selling personal information to claims management companies and other marketing organisations."
Examples of texts sent out by Tetrus Telecoms include: "CLAIM TODAY you may be entitled to £3500 for the accident you had. To claim free, reply CLAIM to this message. To opt out text STOP. Thank you."
Mr Niebel was ordered to pay a penalty of £300,000, while Mr McNeish has been fined £140,000.