The Information Commissioner has launched an investigation after hundreds of residents in Leicestershire were woken by illegal automated cold calls in the dead of night, warning them that their homes were vulnerable to burglars.
The calls were understood to have been made by a marketing firm on behalf of an, as yet, unnamed security company, targeting homes in the Market Harborough area in the early hours of the morning on Monday 24th August using illegal automated calls which, according to reports, left some elderly residents in a frightened state. It has been reported that residents were told that they could no longer rely on the police for their security. Callers were told to follow instructions and use an automated service to arrange an appointment with the alarm company, whose representatives were in the area.
Automated calls to households for direct marketing purposes are illegal under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 and face fines of up to £500,000.
This is not the first time that dodgy methods have been used to sell alarms to the public as telephone scams in Herefordshire in 2013, Essex in 2012 and others have been reported over the years. The use of automated calling is fairly new as previously this had been done by salesmen using pressure techniques or scare tactics to get the public to sign up. Often these calls involved the homeowners agreeing to an overly expensive contract while being told they were getting the equipment and installation for free. The BBC programme Watchdog has also uncovered shady alarm selling techniques in the past.
We reported in the July edition of PSI that the domestic alarm market in the UK was a potential growth area for installers with only 28% of homes having an alarm fitted (according to data from Vanderbilt’s Security Barometer 2015) and in the September edition our Panel of experts gave their tips on how to gain business in the market. Not one of them suggested using pressure techniques or automated cold calling.
If we are not careful such illegal tactics could seriously harm the domestic market for those searching for new business. If the sale of burglar alarms becomes linked with the “used car salesman” syndrome or “dodgy geezer” tag it will be made very difficult for the trade to gain the trust of new customers.
Many of you will be accredited in some way with the bodies that exist in the UK to identify the best companies in the installation sector, so this type of thing must annoy the hell out of you. Obviously there will always be cowboys and there will always be businesses looking at the quick-buck, but in the long term it is damaging the market and tarnishing the work of those that seek to raise standards – especially with the widespread media coverage such incidents provoke.
We await the finding of the ICO in the Market Harborough case with a keen hope of a serious fine especially as the news that Energy and Lifestyle Management (Helms), based in Cambuslang, South Lanarkshire, has been issued with a £200,000 fine by the watchdog for breaking marketing call regulations.