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Robocallers are finally being fined into oblivion in the UK

A woman poses with the SoftBank Mobile Corp's robot-shaped mobile phone "Phone Braver 815T PB" at the International Tokyo Toy Show in Tokyo
Reuters/Toru Hanai
“Are you happy with your current energy provider?”
By Joon Ian Wong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Robocallers in Britain, beware. The UK’s privacy watchdog, known as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has issued its biggest-ever fine for automated nuisance calls. A company called Keurboom Communications was slapped with a £400,000 ($517,000) penalty yesterday, after making nearly 100 million robocalls that triggered more than 1,000 complaints. Keurboom is closing shop as a result; it was placed in voluntary liquidation after the fine.

This isn’t the first time the ICO has dealt a death blow to an aggressive robocaller. The previous penalty record was held by a firm called Prodial, which spammed people’s phones with a “staggering” 46 million robocalls, according to the ICO. Prodial received a £350,000 penalty last February. It, too, went into voluntary liquidation after the fine was issued.

What are robocallers so keen to pitch? Overwhelmingly, automated calls make offers of savings on energy bills, according to complaints received by the ICO. Accident claims, debt management, and even oven-cleaning services also appear in the list of popular robocaller topics. Bizarrely, some calls are just silence, and at least 17 people were robocalled with a pitch to sell them a call blocker.

Energy Saving and home improvements
11,997
Accident claims
1,377
Energy Supply
1,214
None of the above
659
Competition
496
Debt management
398
Banking
211
Silent / No answer
201
PPI
121
Oven cleaning
109
Insurance (including car, life and home)
73
Broadband, phone, TV or other telecoms services
56
Lifestyle surveys
32
Gambling
23
Call Blockers
17
Health
17
Adult content
16
Computer scams
12
Payday Loans
10
Charities
9
Pensions
5
Holidays
1
Source: Information Commissioner’s Office, UK. For Jan-March 2017.

The British government recently relaxed rules about nuisance marketing, freeing the ICO to go after more robocallers and spammers. The old rules required the regulator to prove that the calls caused ”substantial damage and substantial distress,” a threshold that was removed in April 2015.

The ICO can issue a maximum fine of £500,000. Based on spammers’ continued enthusiasm for robocalls, that limit will be hit sooner rather than later.

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