Unmasked: The Indian text pest bombarding Britain with 500,000 spam messages a day
In a cafe by Euston station, tycoon brags to the Mail on Sunday of pocketing 7.50 every time you reply to his messagesBut UK law can't stop him… because he works from India
22:42 GMT, 8 December 2012
This is the man who plagues half a million Britons a day with illegal spam texts telling them they are entitled to a refund for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI).
The IT boss makes millions by selling the numbers of British mobile phone users who respond to his spam messages to claims management companies for as little as 90p each. The claims firms then pursue banks for PPI refunds on behalf of the customer, but take a hefty fee.
He told an undercover reporter: ‘Often you must be receiving [PPI] SMS on your mobile… that is my company.’ Then he boasted: ‘If I was not making millions, I would not be doing this business.’
Jayessh Shah pockets 7.50 by selling your mobile number to a British-based claims management company whose salesmen then harass you with repeated calls
Jayessh Shah has flooded mobile users with hundreds of millions of pest texts over the past four years.
What he is doing is illegal but the authorities are powerless to prevent him because his company is based overseas.
For every PPI text you receive and reply to, Shah pockets 7.50 by selling your mobile number to a British-based claims management company (CMC) whose salesmen then harass you with repeated calls.
He then makes more money by selling the numbers to other CMCs, for as little as 1 each time, which means you will be called by yet more salesmen.
Spam text-messaging for PPI has reached an ‘epidemic’ level in the UK, with nine out of ten Britons having received one in the past few months, said a recent survey for the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Shah, 41, said his company is among the top five firms that inundate British mobile phone users with texts
Shah, 41, said his company is among the
top five firms that inundate British mobile phone users with texts.
unlike his British rivals, Shah said, the law cannot touch him because
he operates from India.
He said: ‘See, it is illegal to send marketing SMS in the UK if you are based in the UK. But I am based in India so it becomes an overseas company, I can do broadcasting sitting in India.’
Shah is the CEO of his IT company called Vinayak Infotech & Telecommunications Solutions (Vintels), which consumer websites and experts complain is one of the most prolific transmitters of spam texts to British mobiles.
But despite sending spam on such an ‘industrial’ scale, the authorities are powerless to shut him down because his firm sends the texts from India.
Had his company operated in the UK, Vintels could have been shut down and Shah could have been fined up to 500,000 under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).
Last month the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces the PECR, fined two Manchester-based businessmen 440,000 for sending 840,000 spam texts for PPI.
But industry experts say the case of Vintels highlights the problems authorities face in clamping down on spam, because most of the culprit firms are based abroad. One insider said as much as 85 per cent of spam PPI text messages hitting British mobiles come from India.
The purpose of the texts is to get the mobile phone user to apply for a refund for a mis-sold payment protection insurance through a claims company, which takes a third of the compensation in fees.
But while it is estimated that up to three million Britons have been mis-sold PPI by their banks and therefore can make legitimate applications for refunds, the vast majority of people bombarded with PPI texts have never taken out PPI, and are harassed at least twice a week with spam texts.
'THEY'RE SELLING MY DETAILS'
The boss of a home improvement firm was shocked to find out that his mobile phone number was being sold by Vintels to claims companies for 90p.
Ian Lithgow, 49, from Whitstable, Kent, said he could not remember if he ever sent a response to a PPI text message, although he said he regularly receives them.
His mobile number was among the 2,000 that Vintels sold to The Mail on Sunday. He said: ‘I have never taken out PPI, but the text messages said I am entitled to about three-and-a-half grand.’
Mr Lithgow said he has been called several times by claims companies which tried to get him to apply for a PPI refund. But they then usually put the phone down after he tells them that he has never taken out PPI.
He said: ‘It can be very annoying. I receive such calls and texts all the time.’ He said he found it disturbing that his personal details were being sold in India. ‘I don’t like the idea that my personal details are being sold like that half-way around the world.’
Companies such as Vintels have a huge
pool to target because there are more than 80 million mobile
subscriptions in the UK, with over 90 per cent of all British adults
owning or using a mobile phone.
The Mail on Sunday investigated
Vintels after receiving information from several sources that it was one
of the most prolific producers of spam text messages.
calls itself a ‘lead generation company’, which randomly texts mobile
phone users telling them they are entitled to a refund of around 3,500
for mis-sold PPI.
The text usually advises the receiver to reply ‘Yes’ if they want to claim their refund, or ‘No’ if they don’t, and ‘Stop’ if they do not want to receive such messages again.
When someone responds to the text, even with ‘Stop’, their mobile phone number is then sold as a ‘live lead’ to a claims company, whose agents then contact the person by phone, and try to sign them up for a PPI application.
PPI has become huge business for claims companies which have seen their profits from it rise to 313million last year from 189million the previous year – an increase of 66 per cent. They are still desperately seeking more leads because banks have set aside 12billion to pay PPI compensation.
A Mail on Sunday reporter contacted Vintels by phone at their headquarters in the Indian city of Pune, 140 miles east of Mumbai. Within hours, the reporter was contacted by Shah, who was in the UK on business.
He said he was happy to meet the reporter, who was posing as the director of a London-based claims company who wanted to buy leads for PPI. Shah agreed to meet the reporter for a ‘business meeting’ at a cafe near Euston station in Central London, on his way to Manchester.
Shah explained that each day his company sends 500,000 text messages using ‘super-computer servers’ from one of Vintels’ offices in the tourist state of Goa.
'I'M PLAGUED WITH CALLS'
Retired maritime engineer Barry Davis said he replied to a PPI text message believed to be from Vintels about three months ago, and has been plagued with calls since.
His mobile phone number was found among the 2,000 leads that Vintels boss Jayessh Shah sold to us.
Mr Davis, 65, from Southampton, said he replied ‘Yes’ to a PPI text because he wanted to know who was behind it.
‘I’ve since had calls from lots of companies who have tried to sign me up for PPI,’ he said.
‘Some of the callers seemed to be speaking from India, as they had strong Indian accents, and did not speak good English.’
He was shocked to hear that his mobile number was being sold in India to claims companies.
‘It’s unfortunate that this is going on, but there does not seem to be much I can do about it,’ he said.
Mr Davis may make a complaint against Vintels to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The computers send the texts via the
internet through servers in America, which Shah claims brings down the
cost of the messages to less than a penny each.
added that the messages are sent from British SIM cards which they
export to India, and connect to the computers, so that the SMS text
always appears to the receiver as if it came from the UK.
Shah claimed he bought the numbers of mobile phones he targets from British network providers.
But experts said they believed that Vintels’ computer system randomly produced British mobile numbers – which all have 11 digits and begin with ‘07’ – and then bombarded them with texts. Each time someone responds to their texts, even with a ‘Stop’, it would alert Vintels that the mobile number is real, and could be sold as a lead.
Shah agreed to sell the reporter 2,000 second-use leads for 1,800, or 90p per number. Such leads were seven days old, and had been targeted by a claims company once before.
Two days later, after the reporter transferred the money to Vintels’ British-based Santander bank account, Shah emailed an Excel spreadsheet of 2,000 mobile phone numbers.
The Mail on Sunday called a sample of 20 numbers from the database to see if they were genuine. Those that answered their phone said that they did send a ‘Yes’ response to a PPI text weeks or months ago, but just to see who was behind the texts.
The Information Commissioners Office said it is already investigating Vintels, and wants to examine the evidence gathered by The MoS.
The Ministry of Justice also said it wanted to examine the evidence gathered by the MoS against Vintels. A spokesman said: ‘Those who do business in the UK are subject to UK law. We will come down hard on those who break our rules.’
When contacted, Jayessh Shah refused to comment. He said: ‘You can write whatever you like,’ and put the phone down.
Making the texts REALLY stop
If you receive a spam text about PPI and want it to stop then do not respond in any way, even by texting back ‘Stop’. Instead, forward the text to a number given by your network provider, which can then take action against the companies.
The anti-spam numbers are:
O2: Forward the message to 7726, and the network will block the number or investigate it through its Nuisance Calls Bureau.Vodafone: Send the message to 87726 for its fraud department to investigate.T-Mobile: Lodge a complaint on its website concerning the number that spammed you and T-Mobile will contact you back.Orange: Email [email protected] with the message and the number that sent it and its customer services department will investigate.3: Forward the message to 37726.
You can also report spam texts to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which investigates firms responsible for unsolicited SMS marketing. The ICO can be contacted on 0303 123 1113, or at ico.gov.uk/complaints.aspx.
HOW HE AGREED TO SELL US 2,000 'LIVE' NUMBERS FOR 1,800
These are excerpts from the transcripts of conversations between Jayessh Shah, the CEO of Vintels, and Mail on Sunday reporter Abul Taher, who was posing as a claims company director.
Shah explains to Taher how he sends spam text messages from India using super-computers and escapes prosecution in the UK.
Shah: I’ll tell you how we do it. We broadcast SMS, like, often you must be receiving SMS on your mobile. It is all computerised, information technology.
Taher: So how may texts can you send out per day
Taher: 500,000 What, using super computers, or… And these are British mobiles But that’s what I am slightly worried, just help me out here, in this country it’s illegal to SMS-market
Shah: It’s illegal in this country, but I am overseas.
Taher: But how are you getting the numbers
Shah: It’s raw data, we don’t know if this number is active or not active. Our job is to broadcast, the moment it hits, the person replies ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
Taher: What numbers are you going to give to me
Shah: Only those who have replied ‘Yes’.
Shah offers Taher the ‘seven-day’ numbers, which are ones where a person has replied ‘Yes’ to a text, and has been contacted by a claims management company (CMC) once already.
Taher: So you are going to give me the numbers that said ‘Yes’. Are they live ones or are you going to give me the seven-day-old ones
Shah: Seven-day-old ones. Live ones I am totally packed till December. I can’t give you them.
Taher: So you supplied them to other CMCs
Shah: Once. You can say, the number remains with them for seven days.
Taher: What would my conversion rate be, say I buy a thousand numbers off you
Shah: Somewhere, between 6-8 per cent.
Taher: So 60 to 80 numbers, I get conversion. Right, not more
Shah tells Taher that through the daily spam text messaging, Vintels has built a database of 1.6 million mobile phone users who replied ‘Yes’ to a text, and are now PPI leads.
Taher: If we hit those numbers for a few days, if we get a good rate, then we’ll order more. How many, what’s your pool like, how many numbers have you got that you can give to us
Shah: At present I’ve got around 1.6 million numbers.
Taher: That’s people who have said Yes
Shah: (nods his head)
Taher: How long did it take you to get that How long has it taken you to get that
Shah: Every day I do broadcast, since seven years I am doing that.