Three men have been jailed in the U.K. after sending bogus letters demanding that small businesses pay to register under the 1998 Data Protection Act (DPA).

Leeds Crown Court sentenced the men who sent thousands of letters demanding registration fees of £135 ($266) to register under the act in a scam that could have brought the fraudsters up to £2 million.

The court heard that the fraudsters had already banked £62,575, but had thousands more demands printed and ready to be posted.

Liaquat Khan admitted two charges of conspiracy to defraud and was jailed for two and a half years. Parminder Kaur Johal and Zahir Abbas Shah also admitted two charges of conspiracy to defraud and were jailed for 13 months and eight months, respectively.

A fourth person, Nosheen Sheridan, admitted one charge of conspiracy and was given an 18-month supervision order with 50 hours unpaid work.

Judge Roger Ibbotson said the men were involved in a substantial and systematic fraud. The men had specifically targeted the owners of small businesses and relied on their wish to act lawfully and not commit any breach of the regulations, he said.

The Information Commissioner's Office issued a warning to remind business not to be misled by bogus agencies sending bogus registration notices and demanding money.

ICO chief operating officer Simon Entwisle said: "We are delighted with this result. Once again it sends out a very clear message: if you run a bogus data protection agency you will be investigated and prosecuted."

He added: "If a business receives a letter out of the blue demanding more than £35 to register under the DPA then this will be a scam. Our simple message to businesses is to disregard the letter and do not pay the fee demanded."

The convictions follow an operation involving the ICO, police and other enforcement agencies.