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Phone company fined for cold calling customers

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
The case was brought after the watchdog received complaints from members of the public
The case was brought after the watchdog received complaints from members of the public

DISCOUNT landline operator Yourtel has been fined €5,000 for unwanted marketing calls targeting Eir customers to tempt them to switch over.

It is the latest firm to be successfully prosecuted at Dublin District Court by the office of the Data Protection Commissioner. The case was brought after the watchdog received complaints from members of the public about Yourtel repeatedly cold-calling them against their wishes.

Judge John O'Neill noted their plea of guilty but said Yourtel had been given a warning previously and he recorded a conviction against the multi-national company which has been operating in Ireland since mid-2013. He said the fines have to be paid within three months and the court also heard Yourtel have agreed to pay prosecution costs.

Yourtel pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court to two counts of breaching section 13 of the EC Electronic Communications Networks and Services Privacy and Electronic Communications regulations 2011. Four other charges were withdrawn by the prosecution. 

The calls were made to customers of Eir, formerly called Eircom. Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told Ronan Kennedy BL, prosecuting, that his office got a complaint from the son of an elderly couple who received unwanted marketing calls from Yourtel.

During one of the calls, on Christmas Eve 2014, the son spoke directly to the telesales worker who was trying to encourage a switch from Eircom to Yourtel. The man had been asked by his mother to speak to the caller because he was better equipped to deal with the matter.

The call lasted 25 minutes during which the man explained that his parents were not interested in changing.  Mr Delaney said this was a "critical point" and he "was opting out at that stage, at that point the family phone was being opted out".  The family received two more calls and said they were not interested in the offer. 

After the first call, the telesales operator apologised and said their number would be taken off their list but they were called again in February 2015. The son pressed them as to why they had not been taken off the list as previously requested but the Yourtel representative argued with him, Mr Delaney said.

The court was told that another Eircom customer began getting calls from Yourtel in 2014 and he told the Yourtel representative "not to call me again".  During the third call he attempted to get details of the company because he thought it was a "criminal enterprise" and they failed to provide him with any information. 

He got further call on December 31 2014. The complainant told the office of the Data Protection Commissioner that most of the callers were male with Indian accents and "they said it was a special offer for Eircom customers". The man asked for an opt out from more marketing calls on five occasions, the court heard.

Mr Delaney also told the court that the telecoms firm had failed to respect the opt out and it was unsatisfactory that they had not admitted it until the hearing today. He also said it was an unsatisfactory conclusion to the investigation and the company did not engage with the office of the Data Protection Commissioner at all since entering the Irish market.

They both have offices in the same building on Harcourt St in Dublin, he pointed out. He also said the company had dragged out the case.

Yourtel have no prior criminal convictions recorded in Ireland, the court was told.

The judge noted the regulator have a two strike policy in relation to marketing matters and not respecting opt outs from the National Directory Database Opt-Out Register.

The company had been let off with a warning on a previous occasion.

The company had also been spared a court conviction last year by paying €2,500 to charity after it was prosecuted by telecoms watchdog Comreg for other offences.

Defence solicitor Peter Connolly said the company apologetic and he would convey Mr Delaney's comments to them. He also asked the court to note the firm had “teething problems” which they had made efforts to address and they had paid prosecution costs.