Simon Read: It's time to put a stop to irresponsible spam payday loan texts
I was at a dinner party earlier this year when I got a text at around 10.30pm. Intrigued as to who would be sending me a message so relatively late on a Saturday night I checked my phone, just in case it was some kind of emergency.
It wasn't. It appeared to be a text from a friend on a night out. It began "Hi mate, Im still out in town." The missing apostrophe, the lateness of the text and the message itself suggested one of my pals was a bit drunk and having a good time somewhere.
So the next part of the message came as a bit of a shock. "Just got £1000 in my account from these guys firstpaydayloanuk."
That worried me. One of my friends was in such dire straits that he or she had resorted to a rip-off loan.
But, of course, they hadn't. The text was, in fact, a spam message sent on behalf of an irresponsible payday lender. This week the lender – FirstFinancial – was fined £175,000 for persistently bombarding people with similar spam texts encouraging them to borrow money to have a night out.
The Information Commissioner's Office slapped the penalty on First Financial after it received 4,031 complaints about the irresponsible messages.
Simon Entwisle of the ICO said: "People are fed up with this menace and they are not willing to be bombarded with nuisance calls and text messages at all times of the day trying to get them to sign up to high interest loans."
Look, I'm never going to take out a payday loan so I get a little annoyed at texts and calls from dodgy lenders trying to push their expensive credit on me. But, frankly, I'm more concerned that the texts may reach people who could be tempted to follow the advice and borrow a few hundred quid to go out and get drunk.
They've may have a memorable and fun night but will almost certainly end up with a crippling financial hangover which leaves them with debt woes for months. In the worst cases, if they miss a repayment on the loan and end up being stung with outrageous penalty charges, the night out could be the first step into a disastrous debt spiral.
Research recently published by debt charity StepChange found that 26.3 million British adults had been offered payday loans via unsolicited calls and text messages. Frighteningly 1.2 million adults said they were tempted to take out a loan as a result.
"Tackling the epidemic of nuisance calls requires a broad range of measures including stronger powers for regulators, greater co-operation between regulators and measures that give consumers control back over their personal data," said Peter Tutton of the charity.
Richard Lloyd of Which? added: "Consumers need regulators to get tough to stop companies persistently bombarding us with unwanted calls and texts. The Government must make it easier for regulators to take enforcement action."
I agree. Firms caught sending dodgy texts should face immediate closure.
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