Five companies who made thousands of unwanted marketing calls to “older, vulnerable people” must pay fines totalling £405,000.
Some of those targeted suffered from dementia, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) said.
One of those who complained to the watchdog described the cold-call as “threatening and coercive”.
The ICO says it is continuing to investigate a number of other companies.
The calls involved the sale of insurance products or services for white goods and other large household appliances, such as televisions, washing machines and fridges.
“It has made me really ill, they keep calling and have taken money from me. I am an elderly woman”, one of those targeted wrote in a complaint.
Another person wrote that their mother-in-law had received a cold call designed “to persuade an elderly vulnerable person with old age memory loss to take out unneeded insurance on equipment”.
The mother-in-law “is unable to arrange her own affairs” the complainant reported.
The data privacy watchdog said companies were deliberately targeting older people when buying marketing data lists from third parties.
The companies were specifically asking for personal information about people who are aged 60 and over, homeowners and with landline numbers, the ICO said.
The evidence gathered by the ICO led it to believe the companies were either working together or using the same marketing list to target people.
As a result some lost thousands of pounds on white goods insurance and servicing which the companies often knew they did not need, it said.
John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner, wrote in a statement: “These are unlawful predatory marketing calls that were targeted at some of the most vulnerable members of our society and driven purely by financial gain”.
Mr Edwards warned companies employing these tactics to expect a strong response and encouraged anyone pestered by such calls to report their concerns to the ICO.
The consumer organisation Which? welcomed the fines saying over the years it had reported over 100 firms that were cold-calling people about insurance for white goods or other household appliances to the ICO and Trading Standards.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said: “It is unacceptable that unscrupulous firms are targeting older, vulnerable people and pressuring them into buying rip-off appliance cover that they don’t need – so it is positive that the ICO is taking action on this issue”.
Many people register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) which is designed to protect people from unwanted marketing calls.
Unless they have told the caller that they wish to receive them, live marketing calls should not be made to anyone who has registered with the service the ICO said.
According to the ICO the companies fined were:
- Domestic Support Ltd (DSL), based in Littlehampton, West Sussex, which made 69,133 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between January 2020 and July 2020 and was fined £80,000.
- Home Sure Solutions Ltd (HSSL), based in Hove, East Sussex, which made 229,483 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and September 2020 and was fined £100,000.
- Seaview Brokers Ltd, based in Chichester, West Sussex, which made 4,737 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS in June 2020 and was fined £15,000.
- UK Appliance Cover Ltd, based in London, which made 39,167 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between June 2020 and December 2020 and was fined £100,000.
- UK Platinum Home Care Services Ltd, based in London, which made 412,556 unwanted marketing calls to people registered with the TPS between March 2020 and October 2020 and was fined £110,000
The ICO also issued the companies with enforcement notices that require them to immediately stop making such calls.