17 complaints a day about pesky marketing messages

But number of grouses fell to 270 last month, from 1,400 at start of Do-Not-Call Registry

Irene Tham Technology Correspondent

Complaints about pesky marketing messages are still pouring in a year after the launch of Singapore's Do-Not-Call Registry, although in much smaller numbers than before.

The registry, launched on Jan 2, now contains more than 757,000 phone numbers of consumers who do not want to receive marketing offers by phone, SMS or fax.

The Personal Data Protection Commission, which administers the registry, said it has received more than 5,700 valid complaints to date - although 270 came in last month, compared with 1,400 in January.

This works out to an average of 17 complaints a day against organisations that have continued sending marketing messages, mostly via SMS, to consumers who have opted out of receiving them.

The bulk of the 1,200 organisations against which the complaints were lodged are from the real estate, private education and retail sectors. The commission has issued warnings to them.

A spokesman for the commission said that investigations into some 1,400 complaints are still ongoing, and that it will continue to take rule breakers to task.

Organisations that do not comply may be fined up to $10,000 per offence. Even so, the number of valid complaints received monthly "appears to have stabilised", the spokesman said.

"Based on our surveys conducted in early 2014, consumers have indicated that registration has been smooth and that the registry is a good initiative to reduce unwanted telemarketing messages," he said.

All organisations must check against the numbers listed on the registry before sending out marketing messages or making telemarketing calls.

An exemption, however, allows firms to send text and fax messages to existing customers without having to check the registry.

This is allowed so long as customers are given an option to unsubscribe to the messages through the same channel.

The registry rules are part of Singapore's Personal Data Protection Act, which also has provisions on how organisations may collect, use and disclose personal data.

Guidelines for the education, social service and health-care sectors were issued in September.

The commission spokesman said that it will continue to develop more guidelines to help more sectors, including life insurance, understand the rules.

So far, the commission has prosecuted Star Zest Home Tuition and its director, and an agent from real estate firm Huttons Asia, for sending text messages to numbers listed on the Registry.

Star Zest Home Tuition and its sole director Law Han Wei, 35, were each fined $39,000, while real estate agent Kuan Chow Sheng, 32, was fined $27,000.

Two other unnamed organisations had agreed to pay between $500 and $1,000 to compound their offences.

Many consumers have noticed a marked drop in the number of unwanted calls and text messages received.

Teacher Sabrina Su, who used to receive up to 10 calls a month from telemarketers peddling all sorts of credit facilities, said she now gets only calls that "have value" from her banks.

"I feel so much better now about being less hassled," the 50-year-old said.

However, operations manager Leonard Ho, 42, said that he still gets the occasional text message from firms marketing credit and loan services despite having listed his number on the registry earlier in the year.

"It may be challenging for the authorities to nab recalcitrant organisations, especially if they are overseas," he said.

Singapore has no jurisdiction over overseas companies that have no local set-ups. It will need to work with other countries in this aspect.

This article was first published on December 28, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.