The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has announced its intention to impose fines totalling more than £250,000 on two managers of marketing firms responsible for sending out millions of unwanted spam text messages. The messages in question informed recipients that they were entitled to compensation, either because of a non-existent personal injury claims, or because they had been mis-sold payment protection insurance.

Sending unsolicited marketing communications by e-mail, text message or other forms of electronic communications (other than in the context of an existing customer relationship) is not permitted under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive Regulations) 2003 (PECR). The potentially fraudulent content of the marketing texts in question, together with the marketers continued refusal to ignore requests from individuals that they stop marketing to them, made these breaches of PECR particularly serious.

Simon Entisle, Director of Operations at the ICO, made the following comments on the ICO's intention to impose heavy fines in this instance:

"The public has told us that they are increasingly concerned about the illegal marketing texts and calls… while companies can phone people to sell them the latest product or service, the law states that individuals should not receive unsolicited texts or automated marketing calls unless they have given their permission. We know many companies are failing to do this and two individuals responsible for sending millions of illegal marketing messages are now facing six figure penalties unless they can prove otherwise."

The fines will be the first that the ICO has imposed since it was granted the power to impose monetary penalties for marketing breaches last year. The fines are the result of an investigation by the ICO, whereby individuals were invited to contact the ICO with details of marketing emails and texts received from unknown senders.

The fines highlight the importance of ensuring that appropriate consents are obtained before sending marketing by email or text message, and that appropriate procedures are in place to enable recipients of marketing messages to opt-out of receiving communications.