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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

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan – I do not think any official action is being taken to track and trace international cold calls, more’s the pity. However, commercial traffic is no longer the big issue here, it is criminal activity based on various scams and fraudulent practices with the intention of invading people’s computers or robbing them of their money. The number of reports of commercial cold calls coming through to this website seems to have diminished dramatically because the ICO has issued some big penalties to a number of companies [not that they’ve paid their fines, however!]. The TPS is only effective with member companies based in the UK so it has no ability to deal with calls from outside its remit nor with criminal calls. In the meantime nothing is being done about the growing number of criminally-inspired calls entering the UK telephone system. Until MP’s realise that this is a very serious issue, probably one of the hottest topics on the Which? Conversation site, I suspect nothing will be done. I should like to think that Which? would be reporting to MP’s on the massive scale and high distress levels associated with criminal cold-calling and seeking urgent action to implement a technological prevention system.

Automated calls should be banned. I get at least 2 per day from same company offering advice on new boilers, cavity wall insulation, PPI on behalf of ” the Government”. If you get an unwelcome call, you can at least have a bit of fun with the caller.
I always request a call back to discuss the offer, but nobody calls back.

i keep getting the same one every day for someone else and they wont take not known at this number for an answer

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Sandy says:
22 October 2016

When I get the phone call telling me my computer is running slow. I answer “WHICH ONE”? That throws the caller into a “tizzy” as I just keep repeating the question knowing he can’t answer it.

John Sim says:
23 October 2016

I just say sorry someone at my door can you hold on please, then i dont go back

Alison says:
2 November 2016

When its you have been in a accident I say have I hope I am ok x

Alasdair says I’m fed up with calls allegedly made on behalf of the Scottish government urging me to take loft insulation, double glazing etc

Anna Hutchison says:
20 November 2016

I am a pensioner living on my own . I do not do online banking nor store cards . My telephone number is ex directory therefor nobody should have my number except family and friends. When I ask the caller where they got my telephone number they hang up after me persistently asking where they got my number from
I telephoned my provider who informed me I have to pay a fee for this service This is shocking why have my telephone number ex directory if firms can access my number ? Grrrrrrrrrrrrr

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Anna – Being ‘ex directory’ does not prevent your number being called at random.

Latest Which? and trueCall research has found that Scottish cities get the highest number of nuisance calls. Glasgow ranked top out of 18 UK cities for nuisance calls, with Edinburgh second and Aberdeen fourth.

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.

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Hi Duncan, thanks for your comment – we’re really keen to hear what the Scottish Government’s plan is here.

Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work & Jobs, responded to our research today saying:

‘The latest data from trueCall further highlights that citizens in Scotland are plagued by nuisance calls to an unacceptable degree. These calls are a serious problem that can cause both emotional and financial harm, particularly to some of our most vulnerable citizens. That’s why I established the Nuisance Calls Commission, and will chair the first meeting next week. Although devolution arrangements mean the Scottish Government has limited powers to take direct action in this area, by working closely with partners from industry, regulators and consumer groups, we will develop a joint plan setting out practical solutions to the problem.’

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If the Scottish Government find an economical and effective way of doing it there will be no opposition from Westminster I am sure. If a Derogation is needed from the Telecoms Act that is a simple administrative measure that can be exercised by order of the Secretary of State.

As Duncan has frequently reminded us there are systems elsewhere in the world where this can be done so let’s just get one up and running in a Scottish telephone exchange and try it out. It won’t suit everyone but it could probably satisfy most. For each subscriber I expect there will be either a block list or a pass list which in this digital age is no big deal either technologically or financially.

I would rather we explore ways of making this happen rather than reasons why it can’t.

I would like to see call blocking technology installed at the switchboard, providing customers with the choice of whether or not they want to use it. There are many central services already available. For example, there is the option of using the 1571 voicemail service as an alternative to installing an answering machine at home.

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Instead, BT choose to sell us call blocking phones. 🙁

I’m sure we’d all like this but first, is it sensibly possible and second, what calls should it block if it were? I will get calls from unknown or withheld numbers, from first time callers, many of whom I will not want blocked. Is there someone with expertise who can say just what can be done? Maybe this is something Which? should be investigating.

What I am proposing is an optional service with broadly the same capabilities of a standalone call blocker. The advantage of call blocking at the switchboard is that the system can be improved as needed, without users having to replace or upgrade their own equipment.

If those living in Scottish cities are suffering more nuisance calls, they might be a good place to conduct experiments with switchboard-based call blockers.

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duncan, if I read your comment correctly I don’t want international call blocking. I get some international calls I want, not necessarily from numbers known to me. I also want to receive calls from withheld, unknown or numbers I am not familiar with. What I want – the ideal – is for cold marketing or scam calls to be withheld. Now we need know these are cold marketing or scam calls at the exchange if they are to block them automatically. I doubt this can be done until there are enough complaints to identify them and then, presumably, callers will simply change to different numbers. I am trying to get my head round just how “unwanted” calls can be identified and blocked for us all as a routine. What have I overlooked? 🙂

Until we have more reliable telepathic methods by which the exchange can deduce the purpose of any incoming call, any call-blocking system will depend on a degree of programming by the user to create either a list of callers who will not be intercepted or a list of callers that must be blocked or a combination of the two. All calls will have to go through on the first occasion and the subscriber will then have to decide whether to pass or block each calling number for all future occasions by pressing a key on the key-pad. As Malcolm said above, this is not entirely reliable because determined cold-callers or scammers will change numbers to evade the system but I think it would lead to a substantial reduction in nuisance calls, especially if the exchange can also log the origin of the call and its proper number.

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Duncan – Let’s imagine some scammer wants to call me by phone. How on earth can any digital technology possibly know what the caller is going to say to me until I answer the call and dialogue starts? It’s easy to trap and analyse e-mail messages because they contain the full text and, as you say, sophisticated programmes can look for key words and sentences. And how can the system detect whether a call is a cold call or a hot one following up a previous call at the subscriber’s request? If there is going to be central call-blocking I want to have the facility to override any automatic blocking. Only the subscriber knows whether a call is a nuisance call or a cold call. I agree that GCHQ can also find that out but not until they have monitored the conversation.

I might have said it before but, at the risk of repeating myself, the notion that cold calls and nuisance calls come from big business is fanciful. They come from criminals and from the most desperate end of commerce imaginable. I don’t suppose the CBI today were pressing the Prime Minister to leave them alone; apart from anything else they block the lines up preventing genuine business calls from getting through – see the number of complaints made by small businesses through Which? Conversation about nuisance calls, cold calls, and scammers preventing them from getting on with their work.

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AIUI these services only reveal the number from which the call is being made. They don’t deal with the problem of burner ‘phones, which could account for a significant proportion of overseas spam calls.

There are several UK-based services which offer ‘unmasking’ apps, as well as extra ‘free’ numbers, redirected to your own ‘phone. So it’s not the US per se dong it, Duncan; it’s companies everywhere offering the options. And it’s worth noting that the UK is (and always has been) well ahead of the US in mass-user technology terms.

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I believe everything you say, Duncan [I am responding to your “OK John” post above], but knowing the origin of the call does not tell me that it will be a nuisance call [cold marketing call or scam call]. But what I have in mind is not that complicated: a caller rings my phone, I answer it and realise it is a nuisance call, so I press Button A and the call is immediately disconnected. Not only that, but no other call from that number will pass through the exchange to my line in the future. An alternative scenario is that a call comes in from a relative on holiday in India or somewhere, I want to ensure that number continues to have access to my line so I press Button B and the system logs the number as one that must always pass through the exchange to my line.

Now, when the system recognises that the same originating number is ringing to hundreds of subscribers who are all blocking it by pressing Button A, a management report is generated to enable that line to be traced to source and investigated. That number and any other numbers linked to it could then be blocked from entering the UK telecoms network. Once this was made known around the world the number of nuisance calls would drop.

Do they get many nuisance calls from India in the United States? And if so how do they find out who is making them and where they live?

Burner ‘phones are disposable, Duncan. Really naughty people buy ’em, use ’em and bin ’em. They’re untraceable.

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Yes – I agree they use existing networks. But used once and then destroyed means it’s untraceable to an individual for all intents and purposes.

I have had 3 calls today from Telephone Preference Management.

They knew my name and address although I told them my address was wrong. Apparently it is a service I signed up for but they ignored my question of when. They also ignored why they needed my address.

I even got a supervisor on the line to confirm what the first person was telling me. They were going to stop all my nuisance calls from their end, but couldn’t tell me how or where their end was.

They ended the call before I could ask if it would stop them too as they were nuisance callers.

Susan says:
22 November 2016

Totally fed up with them phone house phone I hung up then phone mobile phone

I certaintly think that Cold calling by companies needs to be stopped. It regularly opens the door to people with Criminal imperatives moving in on this, who target vulnerable people on low incomes, who cannot afford to pay for call barring services if they are operating on a tight budget. I also think that a lot of this cold calling involves a regular breach of the Data Protection Act of 1998, on a regular basis. When we renew our electoral registration on an annual basis, one question we are asked is if we wish our details to be available to public companies. If people say no, one can be pretty sure, that this will be ignored or disregarded and against people’s express wishes, such information regarding contact details will be passed onto companies, without their consent. I certaintly think in stopping cold calling nuisance calls, there should be liaison with the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who has had to fine several companies for their breach of the Data Protection Act, for example A4E and Midlothian District Council, as well as liaison with the Scottish Information Commissioner to enlist their help in tackling this problem. May be the 1998 Data Protection Act may need strengthening and beefing up a bit to deal more adequately with this problem, if there are any loopholes in this Act that can easily be exploited.

A decade of tweaks to a failed regulatory regime have done nothing to halt this practice. After the fact penalties are no consolation for the wasted time and the stress and anxiety caused – especially as most of the penalties remain unpaid.

Until such time as usage of the telephone for marketing purposes is banned by the individual regulators that control the various problem sectors, the problem of nuisance calls will continue.

my worst call was in the night, in a panic I knocked the phone to the floor, by the time i answered it I was being sold double glazing. I hung up . Next morning there was a message on my answer machine timed 3.45 AM. I went to costco and bought a blocker phone Problem solved

There should be a button on all phones which you can press to send copy of the cold calling number to a national database. This will allow the whole problem to be seen and action taken

Certainly at the moment there is no reliable central record of how many cold calls are getting through to people. Therefore the scale of the problem is being disguised. We have discussed before the problems with withheld numbers, spoofed numbers, and other untraceable numbers. I cannot believe it’s impossible to stop any call with an invalid number from getting past the first exchange it encounters on its route in the UK after transmission from the satellite.

Many of these calls are simply looking for you to respond but then no one speaks at the other end. I suppose that this is because the caller gets paid by the number of calls that get made and knows that the message takes time and results in a negative response.
I simply put the telephone down and do not cut the call off. I think that means that the line is kept busy until I do hang up. If everyone did this the cold caller might run out of lines?

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It is an offence in the UK. According to Ofcom, where someone is repeatedly making abandoned and/or silent calls, they can take enforcement action, including fining the caller up to £2 million. Ofcom continually monitors complaints about abandoned and silent calls and can launch an investigation if it believes a caller is not following the law.

Comparisons with North America are interesting, but do the United States and Canada have to deal with millions of calls coming in from automated calling systems in Asia? People I have asked who know a lot about America never seem to have an answer to that.

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I think you had better ask Ofcom for the answer to that question, Duncan. They have fined numerous nuisance calling companies and the inland problem is now insignificant. They might know where the overseas calls are coming from but don’t have the power to stop them.

Do the United States and Canada have to deal with millions of calls coming in via satellite from automated calling systems in Asia, or are all their nuisance calls from inland numbers? Perhaps in America it is legal for a third party to disconnect a telephone subscriber; I don’t think it is permitted here. I wonder if the Nomorobo device has been tested in the UK – one of your sources might know.

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I understand that all incoming calls via satellite transmission are picked up at ground stations before being fed into the UK network, which is why I said I said in a previous comment that I thought any interception would have to be at the point where they first enter a UK exchange.

I realise we are in the Scottish Conversation, but it seems to me that Which? has not tackled any government minister on why the government has not progressed the interception of overseas nuisance calls using available technology and on whether it will now do so. The nearest government appointment I can find resembling a minister with any responsibility for telecommunications is the Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP [West Suffolk] who was made Minister of State for Digital and Culture at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 15 July 2016. Among his multifarious roles are (a) arts, (b) broadband, (c) culture, (d) creative industries, (e) cyber security and telecoms resilience, (f) data protection, (g) digital strategy, enterprise and technology, (h) digital infrastructure and spectrum, (i) digital markets and consumer policy, (j) digital engagement and skills, and – finally – (k) media. Makes me think of a long night at the opera.

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From what I have seen on the regional news programmes and in the local papers, Mr Hancock seems to be an approachable and amicable person so Which? should perhaps invite him to contribute a piece answering the points that so many people are posting here. These people in power won’t volunteer themselves – they have to be asked.

Eleven a week? If only. Nearer 11 a day here in this part of England…

Almost all from the Lifestyle survey (Philippines?). Others from India, and more recently UK-based calls to sell me a funeral plan.