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Update: getting to grips with nuisance calls in Scotland

Nuisance calls

Latest Which? research shows Scots get more unwanted phone calls than the rest of the UK. Since the launch of the Scottish campaign on nuisance calls, we’ve been pushing for the Scottish government to tackle the problem and we’ve had a breakthrough…

Last week at the Scottish government’s Nuisance Calls Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland’s new Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP gave a keynote speech and confirmed a Taskforce would be set up to tackle the problem.

Nuisance calls summit

We presented our latest research to regulators Ofcom, ICO, network providers such as BT and Three, Trading Standards Scotland, SSE, those in the voluntary sector representing vulnerable people and Scottish Government officials.

Our research found that 83% of those surveyed in Scotland, just over 1,000 people, said they’d received a nuisance call on their landline in the last month.

What’s more worrying is the sheer volume of these calls people in Scotland receive. A third of Scottish residents told us they had 11 or more nuisance calls in a month.

Last month, we analysed calls to customers with call blocking service trueCall, we found that over the last three years, people in Scotland received around 37 unwanted calls a month, compared to 26 for customers across the rest of the UK.

Older, more vulnerable trueCall customers received an average of 45 calls per month and 27% of these more vulnerable customers received more than 60 calls a month.

Our research found that Scots are taking action to stop the calls by asking to be removed from a database, asking not to be called again, or complaining to their friends or families. But around a third simply don’t know where to go to complain.

Update: 21 November 2016

Which? and trueCall teamed up to analyse over nine million calls made to trueCall customers between January 2013 and September 2016 and found that Scotland’s cities top the table for receiving the highest number of nuisance calls.

Out of eighteen UK cities, Scotland’s cities occupy the first, second and fourth place, for the highest number of nuisance calls made to trueCall users. Analysis found that Glasgow is the number one city with a staggering 51.5% of calls being classed as a nuisance. This is followed by Edinburgh with 47.8% of nuisance calls and Aberdeen saw 45.6%.

This latest research comes as the Scottish Government’s Nuisance Calls Commission is due to meet for the first time in Edinburgh on Wednesday 30 November. Last month, Keith Brown MSP, told Which? Conversation that he would be challenging the Commission to put in place solutions that will make a long-term difference to nuisance calls in Scotland.

Which? is calling on the Scottish Government to use this Commission to agree and publish its promised action plan on tackling nuisance calls. The plan should put pressure on Scottish businesses to be more proactive in protecting consumers, as well as providing more help for vulnerable people, such as installing call blocking technology.

Stats only tell half the story

It is, after all, about much more than the stats. Our supporters have shared with us what nuisance calls means for them. People like Alex from Lockerbie, who can’t make contact with his wife’s aunt, a frail 93 year old, because she refuses to answer her phone dreading it is ‘that woman again’.

Or Frank from Gairloch, who still gets calls for his late wife who died three years ago.

Or Tina from Orkney, who has a debilitating medical condition requiring her to sleep a lot, so the last thing she needs is to have to get up to unnecessary cold calls.

It’s clear that no one piece of research will give a complete picture, but the evidence we have shows that there is a particular problem in Scotland that needs resolving. So the summit offered a good opportunity to stimulate action. Help us call on the Scottish government to cut off cold calls by signing our petition.

As well as continued action at Westminster, we now look forward to a Scottish government TaskForce and an Action Plan to set out concrete actions to stop these calls.

Comments

I stay with friends in Scotland for almost two weeks over Christmas and cannot remember mention of nuisance calls, so maybe they are just lucky.

Once again I will suggest that the penalty should be for the government to instruct the service provider to remove the phone service of the company making or authorising marketing calls. The latter would cover overseas call centres instructed by a UK company.

The Advertising Standards Authority has stopped companies from using unsatisfactory advertising after a single valid complaint, so our regulators need to follow their example and not wait until there have been hundreds of thousands of nuisance calls before taking action.

robert c says:
27 November 2016

I’d like a sliding scale, 1st offence their phone lines will be disconnected for 24 hours without notice – which will inconvenience them and their staff (who are party to this activity). 2nd offence, 1 week, 3rd offence ban them from having a phone line in the same way that directors are banned from running another company. The ban HAS to extend to any new businesses they set up or they will simply start again next day.

However it is hard to report them if they hide their phone number, so that has to be addressed too.

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I think we shall have to await the Taskforce’s report and recommendations before your fundamental question is answered, Duncan. Having said that, if the Taskforce comes up with something practical that would deal with the problem in Scotland, and Scotland is willing to meet the cost, there would be nothing to stop either the UK government from implementing it on behalf of the Scottish government or giving the Scottish government a derogation from the reserved powers. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

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I’d still like to know what practical / technical measures can be taken to stop nuisance calls, particularly those from overseas. It is all very well saying “we’ve been pushing for the Scottish government to tackle the problem and we’ve had a breakthrough” but unless the breakthrough is a solution that actually prevents nuisance calls, not just a wish to do so, then we will be no further forward. Has anyone a solution that can be implemented? The question has been repeatedly asked in Convos but never answered.

Quite right Malcolm. So much of this has been wishful thinking, but perhaps the Taskforce set up by the Scottish government has a solution, or an idea for a solution, and will attempt to make it work.

I cannot think of any way in which an automatic telephone exchange can tell before putting a call through whether or not it is unsolicited and a nuisance – in fact I doubt if the category has yet been comprehensively defined. There must have been a connected and answered call in the first place, the origin of which can then be logged and further calls from that number blocked. Blocking systems work either by listing all permitted numbers with any others being intercepted before connexion. or by listing all barred numbers and blocking them in future. Given that number-spoofing and overseas origins are prevalent features of nuisance calling there is no simple fix. Also, if any system relies on the party called to log a nuisance call [e.g. by pressing a key or keys on the phone], what checks are to be made to ensure that the blocking is being done authentically and not improperly, and by the subscriber and not by someone else [a child or other family member who happens to take the call].

If there is no automatic technical solution, and no reliable human intervention solution. the only other way to disrupt this activity is through enforcement, but the same obstacles remain: spoofed or alternating numbers and overseas origins. It will be fascinating to see what Scotland comes up with.

I cannot believe the UK is the only place in the world where nuisance calling is a problem. We are more vulnerable than some other countries because half the world speaks English so calls can come in from anywhere on the planet. I don’t suppose Sweden or Croatia get many calls from the Indian sub-continent. But other countries might have solutions to this problem and I would hope that part of the Taskforce’s work includes some international research. I think we travel more in hope than expectation.

What’s the problem with my solution of suspending a company’s phone service if they make nuisance calls or instruct others to do so on their behalf? Difficult problems may require radical solutions and though I have little doubt that the efforts of Which? have helped, the problem remains.

Yes Wavechange. enforcement action is the only hope. I think making new regulations that enable a competent authority to instruct a telecoms service provider to suspend a company’s phone service [on all its lines presumably] is the only possible solution so long as the company cannot just use alternative lines, sign up to a different phone company, or change its tactics so that their calls are no longer within the ‘nuisance’ definition. Evidence and proof will be critical.

Had prompt action been taken this might have been nipped in the bud. Legislation is long overdue and I do not understand why Which? has ignored this approach or failed to explain why they believe it would not work.

Stopping a company making or authorising nuisance calls is quite difficult because of the alternatives available. I could sit here making nuisance calls from my mobile from dawn to dusk for about 50p.

However, the effect of suspension would deny the company sales enquiries and cause severe disruption of its trading, so normal service could be resumed when the message has been learned.

I still maintain that it should be illegal for any company or other organisation to make unsolicited calls unless there is a very good reason.

Do you think suspension of service would work for overseas companies? Particularly those in uncooperative countries? If not then UK companies determined to continue making such calls will surely just move their operations offshore.

I hope so. The responsibility still lies with the UK company even if they engage a foreign company to make the calls. With some companies it would be fairly easy to find out which company is involved by waiting to find who comes to fit a replacement boiler. Tracking down who is responsible for scam calls such as those that purport to come from Microsoft would be more of a challenge.

The determined UK company will distance itself from those making nuisance calls on its behalf. I bet whatever steps we try to take will be circumvented by the determined. Just like offshore taxes, online gambling….. Maybe whilst the “authorities” can cut down some abuse our only recourse then is to buy a call blocker.

I’m getting a lot of emails from “Michael” from overnightprofit.co. He describes himself as Quantom Code Founder and all I have to do is click to register and receive $000s in commissions. The last payment I “received” was $10842.81. I could use the dosh – and all mine for doing nothing! I wonder how many others have got these and clicked the link?

Take a simple example. Someone makes a nuisance call about replacement boilers and the recipient agrees to go ahead. The paperwork will identify the UK company and action can be taken.

Someone does a “lifestyle” survey, says you have a computer problem, offers shares……Lots of nuisance calls will not involve UK companies.

I know and have given the example of the Microsoft scam.

I worked in research and soon learned that you should not give up just because something is not easy.

Me too, but you have to also look for achievable and sometimes pragmatic solutions whilst you chase the elusive ideal. . However, maybe that’s because I’m an engineer.

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So how does the technology recognise a nuisance call, Duncan? Somebody has to report a call as being a nuisance before any action can be taken surely. I have always believed that if there is a technical fix then BT and others can make it work, so capability is not the issue. The problem is one of identification.

Sorry to but in, John, but if it was possible to make Freedom of Information requests to companies we could get the answer direct from BT.

But individuals can’t, and it is unnecessary. If information is justified then an official body or regulator should be able to get it. Individuals can contact them first.

“… and it is unnecessary” We will have to differ in our opinions.

The point I was making that whilst a company is under no (current) obligation to give individuals information they might consider sensitive, if that individual considers they have good cause to have the information examined they can make their request to an official or other regulatory body. Which? might be a good place to start.

I know we all get worked up about particular issues and want action; we may or may not be justified but consumers organisations are better placed to deal with such issues more dispassionately and objectively. Well, in some cases. I’d be more confident if they took a more consistent and neutral stance.

Which? could offer assistance by advertising info on who to contact when receiving these nuisance calls. For example The ICO (Information Commissioners Office) are currently working with Trading .Standards -Scotland in an education and awareness campaign from 6th June and have recently been instrumental in issuing two penalties during May, including a £50,000 penalty against Better for the Country Ltd, more commonly known as ‘Leave UK’ for sending over 500,000 unsolicited marketing text messages.

The more pressure exerted by the receivers of nuisance calls on government regulatory bodies may induce them to act in their interests.
There are currently 59 MP’s representing a devolutionary Scotland sitting in the House of Commons in Westminster able to take the necessary measures to act in the interests of their constituents,

The contact to report nuisance calls for our fellow Scottish counterparts is:

The Information Commissioners Office – Scotland
45 Melville St
Edinburgh
EH37 HL
Tel: 0131 244 9001
email: Scotland@ico.org.uk

Ken Macdonald is The Assistant Commissioner for Scotland.

Beryl, 10p a call as a fine does not seem much of a deterrent. i wonder how much they were paid to make the calls? This is where fines are simply a business expense and will be factored in (if you are caught). Maybe £500 000 would have been better but this is the current limit.

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Malcom and Duncan, this longstanding and persistent problem involves the whole of the U.K. Even so, Eva’s report exposes the prevalence of it in Scotland, which justifies her concerns and provides a valid reason to raise the issue at both Westminster and Holyrood. In my previous comment I endeavoured to highlight the importance of keeping up the pressure until the regulator acts in accordance with people’s requests to rectify this ever increasing annoyance caused to so many.

Domestic calls should be differentiated from and be entirely separate from business and commercial calls, in as much as marketing is confined to businesses exclusively and which I am sure is not beyond the remit of BT and other telecommunication companies.

Positive feedback and persistent pressure seems to be the only way to stop this infiltration into people’s lives. All the evidence demonstrates the situation is not improving, despite threats of fines by Ofcom, as Malcolm makes the point. The ICO website seems to be a good place to start as its content holds a wealth of useful information.

@eva-groeneveld, this question has been asked several times but not really addressed. What can be done technically to prevent unwanted calls from overseas? I understand the irritation with unwanted calls but if penalties will not deter, or cannot be imposed because the caller is outside our legislation, the only other possible way is to somehow prevent unwanted calls reaching the intended recipient. I’ve yet to see proposals that would generally achieve this. Have you any?

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How does the Australian system work? What identifies the call to the exchange as a nuisance? If we can find an automatic technical procedure that does not require people to report the number first then we can soon find a way round or through the Telecommunications Act.

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I have relatives overseas so, like many others, would not know if and when to release an international call block – if I’ve read your explanation correctly.

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What if the other party also has international call blocking? Stalemate! It is not a general solution, is it? 🙂 I can’t see a general solution. So while the intro says “As well as continued action at Westminster, we now look forward to a Scottish government TaskForce and an Action Plan to set out concrete actions to stop these calls” I’d like to know what practical and effective concrete actions they might be contemplating.

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My deduction from this discussion is that, as Malcolm and I suspected, there is no technical mechanism that can block nuisance calls unless the calling number has been previously identified as such and reported. It is possible to block all calls from overseas but that is not what people want. They want selective automatic blocking of nuisance calls from wherever they originate but that is not available either in Australia or the USA and it seems it will not be possible in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Unsurprisingly, the technology to do it does not exist. New nuisance calls will still get through, and old nuisance calls from new numbers will get through.

Wavechange’s proposal to defeat the boiler replacement scams and compensation claims calls by making it illegal to commission or benefit from or make such calls under penalty of the suspension of all telecoms services for periods related to the scale of the offence remains worthy of consideration. But there seems to be nothing that can be done to prevent the pretend Microsoft or BT calls which can lead to personal computer invasion, data theft, and identity fraud.

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@eva-groeneveld, Thanks eva. I think we have to be realistic about what can be achieved by legislation, what cannot, and then ways around the latter so that people’s expectations are based on the possible.

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Most of these calls are either scammers, or they are asking for information which can be used to target you with MORE calls from people trying to get money from tou, one way or the other!!

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Sorry Duncan I had not read this before I posted previously. I am not sure I wanted details about spoofing techniques. What I was concerned about, among other things, was that there is nothing technical in the telephone system that can stop the people who ring up on the pretence of being from BT or Microsoft, claim you have a virus, and seek to invade your computer.

What you have said does seem to confirm my deduction that there is no automatic technical blocking fix; any such facility requires a human intervention at some point by the subscriber to either list or delist specific numbers so that they can be programmed into the exchange equipment. Since that probably isn’t going to happen in every exchange in the foreseeable future, people who need that degree of prevention are advised to buy a telephone with call-blocking technology.

We are back where we started! This is where we came in: what people want relief from is being interrupted, running downstairs to catch the call because it might be an urgent help call from a relative, and then finding that it is a nuisance call for a new boiler or something. They also want relief from their elderly and confused relatives being exposed to fraudulent calls that lead them to parting with money they cannot spare for things they don’t want.

I await with interest the Scottish Taskforce’s deliberations and I hope Eva Groeneveld reports back on them in due course.

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So if one of my friends is staying at a different address and wants to call me from the landline there his call will be blocked because it is not on the approved list? That’s not much help.

I think it is clear that there is no technology on this earth that recognises a call as a nuisance before it has been routed through to the intended recipient. Unless, of course, that great Scottish telephone inventor Alexander Bell were to have another crack at the problem.

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Thank you Duncan. It is as I thought, but obviously the Scottish government and its task force believe there must be some technological way of blocking calls for people. We shall just have to wait and see what they come up with. I don’t think making new regulations will change anything but perhaps they have more confidence in that process than I do.

John, maybe Scotland cold tell us what solution(s) they have in mind. Or maybe it is just pandering to a popular wish?

I would be delighted to see nuisance calls stop – even though I only get one every two or three days (I tell them, when we have had a bit of a chat, that they are speaking to DCI Willetts at the ##### police computer crime unit and that their call has been traced. Don’t think it is original or effective but if I have the time it is a bit of fun for us. They hang up). But I don’t want an expression of intent, i want a realistic proposal. If there is one, why keep it secret?

I am placing all my faith in the first two paras of the Intro to the Conversation, Malcolm. I have previously asked for Eva Groeneveld to keep us updated on progress. My acceptance that we live in a fast-moving technological world has probably led me to be overconfident in expecting an early result from the ‘breakthrough’.

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@user-66219 – When I had fibre broadband installed the phone line was untouched as far as I am aware, so I presume that I’m still using a copper phone line to make calls and receive nuisance calls. The engineer provided a new router and that has either one or two (unused) sockets marked phone. Is there a possibility that we may move to a landline phone service via fibre soon? If so, I wonder if there may be the possibility of a technological system to avoid nuisance calls.

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Thanks Duncan. I should not have asked when I was away, but I will have a look when I get home. I know it’s a ZyXEL VMG8924-B24-B10A because I downloaded the manual. It is described as a dual band wireless AC/N VDSL2 VoIP Combo WAN Gigabit IAD. Seeing VoIP made me wonder if fibre-based phone systems might be coming and we might possibly find a technical solution to nuisance calls.

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Thanks Duncan. Maybe one day the phones will be connected to the modem and maybe this might be the end of nuisance calls. Well I can live in hope. At least this modem runs fairly cool whereas its predecessor made by Speedtouch could be used to keep a mug of coffee warm.

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Cannot understand why BT cannot disconnect these fictitious numbers.
Also take some action regarding the international calls

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Please get these companies to stop it. These calls are unwanted give these companies unlimited fines. There phones should be disconnected and stop the automated messages

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I have been registered with TPS and still get unsolicited calls on a daily basis. Last one was from Warm front at 5.30 pm yesterday. I hang up immediately.

Marion Crawford says:
12 October 2016

International – Out of area….. I can have 8 of these in any one day among other cold callers, sooner these can be stopped the better.

The TPS – Telephone Preference Service is a waste of time. They have no power to stop junk calls at all.

robbie says:
13 October 2016

average 2 per day

Companies clearly not based in the city are using local numbers to encourage you to answer the call. Is this legal?

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John – Cold calling is illegal whatever the number used to make the call if you have either registered with the Telephone Preference Service, or have informed the caller directly that you do not wish to receive marketing calls. If a UK-based company breaches these conditions then they should be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office for enforcement action.