Optical Express warning after it sent spam offering free eye surgery

Opticians offered surgery as a prize - in unsolicited text messages sent to thousands

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Healthy Vision

High street optician, Optical Express, sent thousands of text messages offering people the chance to win laser eye surgery. After complaints from recipients, the Information Commissioner has warned the company to stop sending these nuisance text messages, or it could face prosecution.

Over 4,600 people complained over a period of seven months, after the optician sent messages offering the surgery as a prize. A typical example read "Optical Express: Are you the September laser eye surgery winner? Reply YES to enter our free prize draw. Prize worth £5,390. To opt out reply STOP." Recipients said that they had not given permission for the company to use their details for marketing purposes.

The problem

Even leaving aside the morally questionable decision to offer a medical procedure as a grand prize, it's against the law to send people texts for marketing purposes without their prior consent. Andy Curry, Enforcement Group Manager at the ICO, said: "We have issued this enforcement notice as a warning to the company that using people's data without their consent is not acceptable. Any breach of the notice would be a criminal offence."

The Daily Mail reported that Optical Express would appeal the ruling. A spokesman from Optical Express said: "We are aware of the decision taken by the ICO. We will be lodging an appeal."

What can you do if you receive spam texts?

Ofcom recommends that if you get a text from a company you know well, you can reply STOP to the telephone number or the short code shown in the text message. This will inform them that you no longer wish to receive texts from them.

However, if you receive a text from someone you cannot identify, or are not familiar with, it doesn't recommend replying. It warns that these texts are likely to be sent out to random numbers, and that by replying you will alert the sender that the number is active and you could end up getting even more texts - or even phone calls.

Instead, it says that these messages should be forwarded to 7726. This number should be easy to remember because they are the digits on your telephone keypad that spell out the word SPAM. This will inform the networks of the spam doing the rounds, so they will be able to block the worst offenders.

In addition, the Information Commissioner recommends you report the sender either by calling 0303 123 1113, or on the ICO website, so it is aware of any regular offenders and can take enforcement action against them.

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