Do Not Call rules: Tuition agency faces probe again

Do Not Call rules: Tuition agency faces probe again

Just five months after a tuition agency and its boss became the first to be fined for breaching "Do Not Call" rules here, they have come under fire again from hundreds of angry consumers.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, are said to have again sent unwanted text messages to numbers listed on the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry, potentially violating rules under the Personal Data Protection Act.

The Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers the registry, said yesterday it is investigating about 300 complaints against Star Zest and two businesses linked to Law.

"We will determine if these messages are permitted," said a spokesman, adding that it will prosecute organisations found breaching its rules.

While Star Zest and Mr Law sent marketing messages previously, they are now accused of sending SMSes offering job opportunities for potential tutors.

Many people complained on local forums such as HardwareZone and Snap Club, with some questioning why they received the messages even after they had listed their numbers on the registry.

"And I've never had any past dealings with Star Zest," a 25-year old bank analyst called Flaria told The Straits Times. Operations manager Leonard Ho, 42, who received Star Zest's SMS this week, asked: "How did they get my number?"

He also received a similar message this week from Cherry Education, another tuition agency linked to Mr Law, going by a check of its registration details with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Just last August, Mr Law and Star Zest were fined $78,000 for marketing the services of its tutors to numbers listed on the DNC Registry, which lets people block unwanted phone, SMS or fax marketing offers.

Organisations must check against the 757,000 or so numbers listed in the registry before marketing to consumers, or risk a fine of up to $10,000 per offence.

Privacy experts said that the tuition agencies in question may be exploiting a DNC exemption which allows job-offer messages to be sent.

"The companies may be trying to pass off their marketing messages as job offers," said engineer Ngiam Shih Tung, 47, who had complained to the authorities about the agencies' messages.

He also received a message from an unknown sender offering business opportunities for part-time and full-time cleaners.

The Straits Times' checks found that the number displayed on the unidentified message is used by Novo House Cleaning, which has Mr Law as a director. Mr Law could not be reached by phone and did not reply to e-mail queries from The Straits Times.

Lawyer Bryan Tan, a technology partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay, argued that these messages offer business opportunities rather than employment, and would thus fall under the DNC regime. "How different is it from 'Make some cash in your spare time' or 'Work from home' type of messages?" said Mr Tan.

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, agreed. "Employment would need to be understood in the normal course of things such as the tutor receiving Central Provident Fund contributions, leave and medical benefits from the agency," he said.

This article was first published on January 15, 2015.
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