Loans firm fined over spam texts

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A payday loans company has been fined £175,000 after sending more than one million unlawful spam texts.

First Financial was hit with the penalty by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) following an investigation by the watchdog.

The fine comes after 4,031 complaints were made against messages sent from numbers that the ICO found to belong to First Financial.

The messages included some claiming to be from the recipient's friends, reading: "Hi Mate hows u? I'm still out in town, just got £850 in my account from these guys www.firstpaydayloanuk.co.uk."

The spam texts were sent using unregistered sim cards, which is a common method used to avoid
detection.

However the content of the message was similar on each occasion and referred recipients to a website belonging to firstpaydayloanuk.co.uk, which is a trading name used by First Financial.

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which govern electronic marketing, require organisations to have an individual's consent before sending marketing messages by text.

The Advertising Standards Authority also took action upholding complaints made by members of the public who had received unsolicited text messages.

In October, First Financial's former sole director, Hamed Shabani, was prosecuted at City of London Magistrates' Court after he failed to notify First Financial's processing of personal information with the ICO.

This is a legal requirement under the Data Protection Act. Mr Shabani was fined £150 and ordered to pay £1,180.66 costs, despite trying to claim he had no affiliation with the company.

Simon Entwisle, director of operations at the ICO, said: "People are fed up with this menace and they are not willing to be bombarded with nuisance calls and text messages at all times of the day trying to get them to sign up to high-interest loans.

"The fact that this individual tried to distance himself from the unlawful activities of his company shows the kind of individuals we're dealing with here.

"We will continue to target these companies that continue to blight the daily lives of people across the UK.

"We are also currently speaking with the Government to get the legal bar lowered, allowing us to take action at a much earlier stage."

Anyone who receives an unsolicited text message should avoid replying and report the message using the survey available on the ICO website.

More than 200,000 responses have been sent in since the survey was launched early last year and the information provided is being used to help identify those companies responsible.

Spam messages can also be sent to network operators by texting '7726'. The networks are working to block the worst offenders.