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Could more be done to protect the most vulnerable from nuisance callers?

Cold callers

The government has committed to funding 1,500 call blockers for the most vulnerable in society – particularly those suffering with dementia. While this is great news, could more be done to protect the most vulnerable from this modern-day menace?

The Prime Minister announced that £500,000 is to be allocated to a project to install trueCall devices into the homes of elderly and vulnerable people. Working with doctors, trading standards officials and councils, 1,500 most at risk people, particularly those with dementia, will receive a call-blocking device.

Protecting vulnerable people

Many of you will know the irritation that nuisance callers can cause; an irritation which can be especially disturbing and distressing for elderly and vulnerable people, and downright dangerous when those callers are in fact scammers.

The fact of the matter is that scammers are cunning at tricking many people into handing over money and personal details. While anyone can fall victim to a scam, scammers do target older and vulnerable people.

Call-blocking devices can screen calls and either ask callers to enter a security code or direct them to call a friend or relative of the home owner.

But with only 1,500 of these devices being issued to the most at risk, what about everyone else?

After all, I’m sure there will be a number of you who will know a friend, neighbour or relative who could benefit from some sort of safeguard in place to prevent nuisance callers or scammers from calling them.

Well, in addition to the devices, the project funding also includes £200,000 for a public awareness-raising campaign – which again is good, but alone will not be enough to protect people from these calls.

Nuisance calls

As many of you will know, we’ve been campaigning for a crackdown on nuisance calls and texts. In October last year, we welcomed the government’s decision to hold directors of nuisance-calling firms personally accountable, facing a fine of up to £500,000 if their firm is found to be making them – but we’re still waiting for this to be introduced.

Since the start of our campaign, we’ve seen more and more fines being issued by the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), with more than ever being issued in the past year alone.

But the new rules targeting company directors should have a much bigger impact and bring an end to the practice of rogue bosses flouting the rules by closing one business only to set another under new credentials to dodge ICO fines.

So while it’s welcoming to see the government funding call-blocking devices to protect the most vulnerable from nuisance callers, we need it to bring in it’s promised action to hold directors personally accountable and cut these calls at source as soon as possible.

What do you think to this announcement from the government? What more do you think is needed to crackdown on nuisance callers?

Pat says:
14 April 2017

I am with Talktalk and I have last caller blocking where I just dial 14258 after a scam call, press the star key twice and it blocks that number. I did get a withheld number the other day so I rang them and they can block withheld numbers for you, the only trouble is that Doctors, Hospitals etc do use the withheld number so I couldn’t take advantage of that.

This is nothing like sufficient. It is way beyond time that the telcos are forced to check that every call has a legitimate CID that matches the registered phone number of the calling party. This should be a simple software implementation at the calling partys’ local exchange.

So no CID match, no call. The Telcos provide the carrier service, they make the profit, they should be jointly responsible for calls. Ofcom has always been a waste of space and the continuing problem with cold calls and scams is proof of their failure.

We signed up for the Telephone Preference Service several years ago but that does not protect us from the most annoying overseas cold calls – usually from India/Pakistan using either witheld numbers or ones with the prefix ‘0208’ fooling us into thinking the call is local, or the listing is simply ‘International’. The calls are usually from so-called ‘accident and injury claim companies’ about an car accident and apparently they are easily able to pick up details of accidents and then harrass people, even several years after an event. On one occassion, my brother began to engage with the caller who suggested that we ‘create’ an accident or damage our car ourselves so that they could put in a false claim on our behalf! Other calls are from religious seminaries offering tuition and courses. It is clear these companies are targetting us by our surname but I always pretend they have the wrong number or get a bit shirty and tell them they are a nuisance call and demand they remove our number from their database. It is very annoying as I hate being rude and dismissive to people and it means I now do not answer calls unless I recognise the number.

I would like to have the confidence in knowing that if I choose to keep my number private, it remains private, not openly available to scammers from overseas who do not appear to be subject to the TPS rules!

Carol says:
14 April 2017

We have BT Call Guardian on our phones and now have no cold callers at all 🙂

If the government had the guts to do some thing they could shut down all the call centres forth with full stop.

Amanda Pontet says:
14 April 2017

I signed up to the TPS years ago and after a few months the cold calls dropped dramatically! I do still get an average of 1 a day from international numbers – which are usually scammers saying my computer is infected but nothing can totally stop those, when I get a cold call from UK businesses I politely tell them that they are breaking the law as I’m registered with TPS and they hang up immediately. I am home 24/7 due to disability and my answerphone is switched to screening which I highly recommend.

All ‘subscribers’ to the caller preference service should be provided by their phone service supplier with the means of feeding back to the supplier when they receive a ‘cold call’ by for example pressing 555 on the key pad, once a set number of complaints had been received, lets say 50 within a set period, the number would be automatically blocked, pending investigation and hopefully persecution by the regulator. I’m no engineer but I would in this day and age thought such a solution is possible, or do the Telephone service provided make to much money out or telephone sales calls?

My landline was plagued by these calls for many months, mostly robotic calls re boiler or window replacement but lately a few reported to be from ‘fake BT or fake’ Microsoft call centres – using caller id I was in the habbit of not answering calls unless caller was in my contact list. As an average of 2 rogue calls per day was wasting my time in clearing down voice machine, call list etc. and TPS registration, logging offenders with ICO together with writing to my MP was having no effect I opted for a TrueCall call-blocker. This device works with both a blacklist and a ‘white list’ which is a great improvement on my previous handset-baset system which only used a blacklist with a very limited number of entries and which scammers overcame by changing caller id with every call. I was able to migrate existing contact list to the new device to avoid having to enter the entire white list manually; I’ve also temporarily white-listed 4 exchanges from which most of the genuine calls originate. Callers from other numbers including International / Unavailable / Withheld are challenged by the device to state name and press ‘#’ – the majority of rogue callers, being robotic, cannot follow this sequence and call simply ends at that point. Live callers (real persons as opposed to robots) almost inveriably give up at this point as they realise there is virtually no chance that someone with a call blocker will accept such calls.
Obviously there’s an upfront cost involved for the device together with £20 pa for the internet control panel after the first year (but well worth the extra) but based on the time it was taking up to check call logs and answering machine it’s a small price to pay and likely works out at just a few pence per hour considering the time and hassle it’s saving me over a 5 year time horizon. Not least the more telephone subscribers installing such devices (or at the very least not answering unidentified calls) the sooner the whole cold calling operation will be rendered unprofitable.

Supplying these devices to the most vulnerable is only a palliative. There are two main types: 1) Assumes *all* calls are nuisance unless told otherwise. You can usually upload your personal phonebook, but a genuine caller not on the whitelist is asked to speak and identify himself – and relies on the recipient adding the new number to their whitelist correctly – something someone with dementia might find difficult; 2) Lets all calls through unless on a blacklist that the user has to build up – again something a dementia sufferer will find difficult. My blocker is type 2 – I have once inadvertently blocked my partner’s number – it’s too easy to do. Mine does have the ability to block up to 10 prefixes – I block 009 (all middle eastern countries and India) 0203 (London business) 000 (non-existent but quite common) – but otherwise you have to build up the list by having to accept one nuisance call from each number. I can set my device to block all withheld numbers, but that also blocks my doctor, the council, my bank and various other organisations who legitimately need to call me.

Most nuisances who reveal their number give a false one – easily found out by ringing it back. Two things MUST happen to act properly on this:
1) All legitimate callers (banks, police etc.) MUST be required to reveal their number – even if its a central 0845 one.
2) Phone companies must be made to detect and block at the exchange non-existent numbers. The technology is there – they must be required by law to use it. It should equally be an offence for companies to falsify their number as it now is to withhold it.

Without these in place, a call blocker is of little use. Mine has blocked a few persistent nuisances – notably a solar panal pest in Bournemouth, but often the same pest will try again with a different falsified number.

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Steve, TC call-blocker addresses most of your issues (although I’ll accept it would be hard for some of the most vulnerable to setup and maintain caller lists). There’s a combined black / white list, known as ‘zap’ and ‘star’ list which can hold up to 1000 numbers but there’s also the ability to use wildcards, for example 020* can be added to accept / reject callers from London. The default settings for call handling are a good starting point but can be customised, to reject / accept International calls for example. With regard to important calls using ‘Withheld’ caller id the default settings worked fine for us when GP surgery called recently – after stating name and pressing ‘#’ phone rang asking if we wanted to accept the call. For regular callers from Withheld numbers person being called can provide them with the code which will over-ride the screening process.
I’m sorry to advise that the type 2 blocker which you describe is unlikely to be effective against serial offenders who now change their caller id with virtually every call (and typically display caller id 1 digit short which defeats BT’s call-blocker). Screening combined with white list is the way to go until Gov’t and Regulator force the telephone service providers to block calls from ‘fake’ numbers etc.

Aitch says:
14 April 2017

These things may well work in the UK but my provider says the calls i’ve been getting from some company supposedly calling on behalf of BT are based overseas & even though my landline & mobile are registered with the Telephone Preference Service, that service, nor any other provided in the UK can stop those calls.

This is a pain in the ass, as i’ve only had this landline number for 3 weeks & have been inundated with these so-called BT calls up to 8 times a day-7 days a week!

They’ve slowed down a little, as i’ve now started waiting until they speak, then putting my fingers in my mouth & blowing a loud, high pitch whistle down the phone!

Hopefully for their sake they get the message & stop calling, before I deafen EVERY ignorant Jackass who works for them!!!!!

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Altch, the best tactic is to check caller id and if unknown not answer the call in the first place. In the case of robotic calls never use options given for ‘more info’ or ‘be removed from list’; to do so lets the scammers know that number is ‘live’ and thus become a candidate for suckers lists leading to ever more calls. I appreciate not answering may be difficult if you are expecting genuine International calls but maybe you can setup a time for callers to ring and not answer outside of that time.
Based on reports I’ve read some subscribers have reported an increase in nuisance calls following their logging a fault with their service provider….and you appear to be in a similar situation shortly after supply of a new landline number. On this basis, assuming you’ve not registered the new number on questionable websites, one might conclude that subscriber lists have been hacked or dishonest employees have sold lists to the scammers. Call-blockers apart (which only solve the problem on an individual basis) the most useful option is to keep up the pressure on political representatives for much improved vigilance by the telecoms industry together with not responding to nuisance calls so as to reduce profitability of scamming operations.

David Davies says:
14 April 2017

Even though I was ex directory I was still bombarded with regular nuisance calls. I tried various methods over the years but it never stopped them. I even started to be obusive to the person on the phone (totally not British ) but at least it made me feel better. I needed a new phone i did some research and eventually invested in the BT call baring phone, since connecting the phone I’ve not had a single nussance call. When the phone rings and I answer it the person on the other line has to say who they are before I accept the call. This has been a God send, I understand that home owners should not need to go to these lengths to maintain their priversary but all other options failed for me. I would certainly recommend this phone system, certainly if you need to update your land line.

Dave says:
14 April 2017

I have an answer machine on my phone line. All my contacts are listed in my incoming call details record on my telephone. If a call comes in, the identity of the caller is shown. If it is friend or family, even companies that I expect to receive calls from I can answer if I wish. If the caller does not show because it is not registered then I let it go to the answer machine. This method has reduced my nuisance calls from literally dozens a day to a handful a week.
Yes, caller ID in some cases is required. My belief is that it should be free. As with all facilities available at cost. None of which other than the initial tick box checked on setting up of your phone line requires any further action by any provider.
The systems have these facilities provided within them, your provider, BT, TalkTalk , etc, remove them and expect you to
1, pay to have them reinstalled
2, ongoing monthly rental for the said facilities.
Before I get pulled up for maligning telecoms providers, I worked for many years installing and providing telephone systems. When I say it is simple to provide a facility, it is.
If the Government were really interested in preventing cold callers and nuisance calls then they should start at home.
Make telephone providers allow users to have any facilities free of monthly charges. A nominal initial set up fee would be acceptable.
Make telephone providers give customers free advise on how to prevent or restrict these calls. ie, answer machines, multiple handset setup etc.
Lines have to be paid for, they have to be programmed to provide multiple attachment to a single number. It is only logical that nuisance calls can and should be prevented at the exchange.
How determined is the Government at insisting that people should come before profit.

Criminal charges should be brought for bullying and harassment

The trouble I have found recently is that even though my numbers are registered with TPS the cold callers are purchasing numbers in London, Manchester, and Birmingham yet they are located in Asia so are immune from TPS enforcement. There should be a ban on selling UK numbers abroad and only allow them at registered UK companies with offices based in the UK not a PO Box.

Caller displays must be provided FREE by all Telecom companies now you have to pay for one

I agree with you, Bishbut, but it will never be free. It will still be in the bill but paid for by all of us even if we don’t want it.

This call blocker is yet again a convoluted way to for companies to obtain PROFIT.
They are not about genuine protection of the consumer.
The only way to stop these marketing calls is to do what Germany did and make it that one must opt in to receive marketing calls.
I further contest that we should go further and make it extremely easy for people to claim compensation for companies invading ones privacy,, a mere report of the call and the company must pay £20 to the offended individual. Suddenly auto-dialers are on the scrap heap.
It would end these calls overnight,,, same for so called courtesy calls!

Governments whether local or national along with telephone companies have been selling our personal details to marketing companies etc. for many years, now they want us all to pay for devices to limit the nuisance calls, WHAT A JOKE!
This also applies to junk mail!

I have heard that allegation before but cannot recall ever seeing any evidence to support it.

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My comment related solely to the UK, Duncan. To reiterate: I cannot recall seeing any evidence that the UK national or local governments, or the telephone companies, have sold our personal details to marketing companies.

I accept that does not mean it hasn’t happened, just that I haven’t seen any evidence of it reported.

I don’t pay much attention to what might be going on in America as it is rarely relevant to what is happening in the UK and in other parts of Europe or to the general operating conditions and consumer experiences in Europe.

In a curious way I feel that the greater the volume of data being acquired, the less concerned we should be about its subsequent use as total overload will set in and render the data heap useless.

Caspar Helmer says:
15 April 2017

Telecoms providers must be made to do more. Last time I tried to report nuisance calls it was a major nuisance trying to fill out the form to Ofcom (or what ever they are now). Why not provide a short-dial code which allows me to capture and report the details of a call as it goes on? Something easy to remember unlike some of the other # and * codes – how about #999 – the telecom provider can then capture the caller’s and my information and report a nuisance call directly. Vodafone appears to be able to do this with spam SMS messages – why not with phone calls?

just give these cold callers a huge fine . no warnings or reprimand . i get them all the time even though i have complained to talk-talk my service supplier for the last 16 months . and i am ex directory . i have had enough of these cold calling phone ringing door bell ringing no goods

I am disabled and in so much pain. I am sick of cold callers ringing me. I have to turn my phone off so I can get my rest. Why should I have to turn my phone off which means if my wife rings me I miss her call. I am sick off it.

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