Market researcher banned for thousands of unregulated marketing calls

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Aaron Frederick Stalberg, (27), from Exmouth, was the sole director of The Lead Experts Limited, a market research and polling company.

The Lead Experts came to the attention of the ICO following complaints of automated calls made between February 2015 and September 2016.

Enquiries by the ICO established that between 4 and 5 May 2016, the market research company made more than 115,000 automated marketing calls to members of the public, breaching the regulations covering privacy and electronic communications.

Further evidence of misconduct discovered by the ICO found that the market researchers failed to include the company name, address and telephone number in the automated messages, while calls were also routed through Buenos Aires making it difficult to trace the company and phone numbers used were ‘added value’ numbers that charged people when they would call to try to identify the company.

The ICO indicated their concerns to The Lead Experts, only for the market research company to deny they had ever used automated dialling, explaining they had only purchased a small batch of test leads from which they had dialled a limited number due to the poor quality of the sample.

However, the ICO were not satisfied with this explanation and after seeking further clarification from the voice broadcasting platform used by The Lead Experts, the ICO were able to establish the market researchers had placed a signed order for the test leads, while using two audio files containing messages to be played when calls connected.

Having not received a response from The Lead Experts after giving them the opportunity to clarify the new findings, the ICO imposed a £70,000 penalty in October. This was for making automated calls to people without their specific consent and failing to include a company name and contact details in the recorded message.

The Lead Experts failed to lodge an appeal or pay the debt, which led the ICO to refer the company to the Insolvency Service to pursue a directorship disqualification against Aaron Stalberg for his role in the company’s misconduct.

The referral resulted in the Secretary of State accepting a disqualification undertaking from Aaron Stalberg on 16 January 2019, after he did not dispute that he failed to ensure The Lead Experts complied with the direct marketing regulations after the company had made unsolicited automated direct marketing calls to people who had not consented to receive them.

Effective from 6 February 2019, Aaron Stalberg is banned for 6 years from directly or indirectly becoming involved, without the permission of the court, in the promotion, formation or management of a company.

David Brooks, Chief Investigator for the Insolvency Service, said:

Despite the company protesting they had made only a small number of calls, investigations by the ICO confirmed that they had made more than 100,000 unsolicited calls, amounting to a serious breach of the regulations and people’s privacy.

This ban reflects the seriousness of these actions and we will continue to work with our partners at the ICO to take firm action against those whose conduct falls below accepted commercial standards.

Andy Curry, ICO Investigations Group Manager, said:

By working closely with The Insolvency Service we have been successful in stopping the unscrupulous activities of company directors like Aaron Stalberg who cause upset and distress to millions of people who are on the receiving end of this kind of illegal marketing activity.

Our powers to protect the public from companies like theirs making nuisance calls and sending spam texts, have recently been made stronger than ever as we can now make directors and managers of the companies responsible personally liable for fines of up to £500,000. This will help stop them closing down one rogue company and setting up in business again.

Notes to editors

Guidance on the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) regulations are available from the ICO

Aaron Frederick Stalberg is of Exmouth and his date of birth is March 1991.

The Lead Experts Limited (Company Reg No. 09830112)

A disqualification order has the effect that without specific permission of a court, a person with a disqualification cannot:

  • act as a director of a company
  • take part, directly or indirectly, in the promotion, formation or management of a company or limited liability partnership
  • be a receiver of a company’s property

Disqualification undertakings are the administrative equivalent of a disqualification order but do not involve court proceedings.

Persons subject to a disqualification order are bound by a range of other restrictions.

The Insolvency Service administers the insolvency regime, investigating all compulsory liquidations and individual insolvencies (bankruptcies) through the Official Receiver to establish why they became insolvent. It may also use powers under the Companies Act 1985 to conduct confidential fact-finding investigations into the activities of live limited companies in the UK. In addition, the agency deals with disqualification of directors in corporate failures, assesses and pays statutory entitlement to redundancy payments when an employer cannot or will not pay employees, provides banking and investment services for bankruptcy and liquidation estate funds and advises ministers and other government departments on insolvency law and practice.

Further information about the work of the Insolvency Service, and how to complain about financial misconduct, is available.

You can also follow the Insolvency Service on:

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