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Update: 26 nuisance calls a month

Nuisance calls research

Nuisance calls create real distress and our analysis of more than seven million phone calls reveals this is an everyday menace for many people.

We’ve been working with call-blocking provider, trueCall, to analyse landline calls going back to January 2013 made to 4,000 people in the UK who have a call-blocking device.

We found that on average trueCall customers get 26 unwanted calls a month – that means four in ten of all calls they’ve had in the past three years have been nuisance calls.

The high number may not surprise those of you who’ve been plagued by such calls. But it’s still deeply shocking to realise that for some people registered with a call-blocking service, the problem of nuisance calls has got worse over the past three years not better.

And that’s not the worst of it.

Nuisance callers target vulnerable people

We also looked at calls made to people who own a specialist trueCall device designed for older, more vulnerable people.

Worryingly, they got even more nuisance calls – 38 a month on average. One in five received more than 60 calls a month… two calls every day!

It’s pretty clear from our figures that companies are deliberately targeting older people, often calling them again and again and again. Companies such as Falcon and Pointer, which made two million calls and was fined £175,000.

And what’s the impact of these calls? Here’s what Yvonne from Livingston says:

‘These calls are intimidating and very worrying for my 95-year-old mother and also my in-laws who are in their 80s. They get extremely upset by the almost constant harassment.’

Who? What? Where?

The majority of the calls were made from withheld, international or unavailable numbers.

The Government has taken action on withheld numbers (see below), but still 87% of international calls in February 2016 to trueCall customers were nuisance calls.

We also found that some firms are calling 150,000 ‘honeypot’ numbers – numbers never issued to the public, highlighting that many firms auto-dial every available number.

What’s being done?

We’ve been campaigning to ‘call time’ on nuisance calls for years and we’ve been making progress – with your help.

This week, in the Queen’s Speech, the Government said it would introduce tougher laws on how companies obtain your consent, putting you in more control of your data, and penalising firms who continue to contact you.

We’re pushing for company directors to be held to account for their firm’s nuisance calls. This makes it harder for companies to go into liquidation to avoid fines. We think this will make companies think twice before pestering you with calls.

Last year we successfully campaigned to make it easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to prosecute nuisance callers. Just last week the regulator fined a Blackburn-based Claims Management Company £250,000 for making 17.5 million calls last year.

And last month after our campaigning, new laws were introduced meaning direct marketing companies can no longer hide behind ‘withheld’ numbers.

We also want to see solutions for tackling nuisance calls at a network level, similar to those recently announced by BT and in place for TalkTalk customers.

All of us have a role. Signing up to the Telephone Preference Service takes a few minutes and makes a difference. Encourage family members and friends to sign up too. And keep reporting nuisance calls to the regulators – the more reports they get the easier it is to take action against firms who pester us with nuisance calls.

Update: 14 June 2016

In a big win for our campaign, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced today that it’s signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and joined forces with eleven other enforcement authorities across the world to commit to sharing intelligence on nuisance calls and messages.

Stephen Eckersley, ICO head of enforcement, said:

Unlawful marketing calls and messages cause genuine fear, anxiety and frustration to citizens across the globe.  It is a global problem that does not respect borders, requiring a global effort to tackle it.

‘This MoU means that authorities across the world, including the Information Commissioner’s Office, are now actively sharing intelligence. This will help us enforce the law and stop the scourge of nuisance calls and spam texts.’

The ICO joins the ACM (the Netherlands), the ACMA (Australia), CRTC and OPC (Canada), FTC and FCC (United States of America), NTSIT (United Kingdom) and KISA (Korea), Department of Internal Affairs (New Zealand) and National Consumer Commission (South Africa). The eleven members are all part of the London Action Plan group, a group committed to sharing intelligence in the fight against spam and unsolicited calls and messages.

Take our nuisance calls quiz

Test your knowledge of this everyday menace.


From what Francis Keenan says if you’re x-directory your phone number is concealed even when you phone out. That doesn’t seem right. If you’re contacting someone you should be prepared to reveal your number.

Ex-directory numbers aren’t concealed: mine certainly isn’t anyway. I’ve often phoned and been called back when the my call wasn’t answered.
Strangely, the worst offender for nuisance calls to my phone is the BT Indian call centre. Due to my location, I often have to call BT (automatically routed to Bombay) to complain about their abysmal customer service, only to receive, in the following days, calls from what sounds suspiciously like the same call centre (but without the BT number shown on caller display). These calls are obviously using information gleaned from my call (strangely minus my name) including the reason for my call and worst of all, my BT subscriber number. Recently, out of curiosity, I kept a conversation going to see exactly what they wanted: it turned out that their intention was to download ‘Teamviewer’ (Check this out at Teamviewer.com), which would have enabled them to take remote control of my computer to effectively lock me out of it. I suspect that they would then demand a fee to ‘unlock’ it.
The caller eventually realized I wasn’t really playing ball, and shouted, ‘I’ll lock your computer. F*** off!’ I heard a few loud keystrokes before he hung up.

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Anne says:
25 May 2016

I thought I got fewer calls which were mostly under “witheld” on my phone caller ID screen, but now there are just as many under “out of area” or “international” & some with convincing numbers that look like mobile phone numbers. Sometimes the international ones turn out to be my friend calling from USA despite her number being in my saved contacts.

A lot of companies somehow manage to have numbers that look like they’re local, but when you answer them they’re quite clearly not.

That is because it is very easy to pass a caller ID number that is not the number that you are calling from. It is a function built into modern, digital telephone systems. It has legitimate uses, such as providing a local callback number to reduce the customer’s calling costs or to ensure that customer calls can be quickly switched to a fall back call centre if the organisation’s main call centre is not available. Nuisance callers misuse this feature for their own ends – for example to hide their actual location.

Philip Lockhart says:
26 May 2016

I receive these nuisance calls daily have done for years, they range from inquisitive, looking for my personal details, to just plain abusive and rude. I don’t want to talk to any of them, if I need something I will go and look for it. I pay sufficiently for a private phone service. I expect my phone to be private and not open to abuse by all comers, unfortunately, that’s not how my provider and the law sees it, they have some strange idea that these people have a right to call whenever they want to.
They tell me use your opt out choices on the web site, I do the calls keep coming. My emotions go from irked at having to stop whatever I am doing to disturbed, even threatened, I have never put the phone down and thought, wasn’t that nice. When I want to make a complaint, I’m made to jump through hoops, even here on Which, they too want my personal details, name address, specific nature of call etc… they even want me to agree to terms and conditions, which no one ever reads, when I just want sales people, or survey, or whatever they call themselves to stop constantly calling me. I’m exasperated with the whole issue and I wont jump through hoops for anyone.

I am still getting numerous “International” and “Out of Area” calls despite the new rules. I never answer them unless I know that someone I know is abroad and likely to phone. This has got well beyond a joke and should be cracked down on now.

traceywilson says:
26 May 2016

I am also having several calls off International and out side calls numbers, looking like local numbers. and if you say no sorry not interested they slam phone down on you What a lot of arrigant ,irrigant people they are doing that , sick of having them ring me all day and late at night, …and companies fron south east asia ringing asking for personal details .please help get rid of them

Irene Ramsay says:
27 May 2016

I receive on average 15 a day. I even had one at 5am. I have calls divert on my landline that I now can’t use as I would be charged 30p for every one. I have been shouted at and one company actually phoned me back and swore at me because I said he was a scammer.. It is all very frustrating. I wish it would all stop.

The worst for me is scammers saying they are from TalkTalk . (TalkTalk never phone you). They say there’s a problem with something in order to get you to let them access your computer. It’s horrendous, nuisance scam calls all the time. I had the same experience as you, they get nasty. If the phone calls go through screening but you don’t answer, they ring off when the answer machine comes on and then still call you all day. As there are some many of these low lifes they use loads of different numbers. Other nuisance calls are much less at the moment ( PPI was a nightmare) because of my telephone preference registration but it still happens. My gripe is with TalkTalk – dreadful company.

A friend of mine has just parted with a not insignificant sum of money to a caller purporting to be from Talk Talk there’s one born every minute but I didn’t appreciate they never called their customers.

Actually, TalkTalk do sometimes phone customers. I’ve had numerous genuine calls from them. Along with dozens of hoax calls, claiming to be them! Curiously, all the hoax calls know my name, address, and phone number. Which Talk Talk, eventually (& reluctantly!), admitted came from their recent hack.

I regularly get calls from “Gary,” “John,” et al who most often present poor English communication skills; I recognise these calls by a short silence followed by a click / switching noise; these callers numbers are never available; clearly their given names are not “Gary” or “John”
These are not standard sales calls, these are scam calls.
They claim to know my email address and obviously my internet service provider and/or my security provider; if I end up in conversation with them I tell them that they are wrong and these companies they quote as my Internet Service Provider and my Internet Security Programme provider do not cold call their customers!
I find that asking “could I have your number please” results in them hanging up!

John Walker says:
28 May 2016

We purchased a new BT phone that automatically blocks any number that isn’t in our address book and makes them ” announce ” themselves and then we can choose to accept or reject the call. Most unwanted calls just hang up rather than announce themselves. As a result we haven’t been bothered by any nuisance calls for months now. I would thoroughly recommend it. Usually sold at a discount in Robert Dyas

I was also getting up to 10 cold calls a day till I got the BT call blocker service. A great service everyone who works from home should have it.

May McNeill says:
30 May 2016

I still receive “out of Area calls. I thought this was now illegal and how do you stop them?

Since I installed a landline phone equipped with ‘BT Call Guardian’ ALL nuisance calls have been blocked. it really does ‘do what it says on the tin’. I don’t even have a BT line into my home but it still works perfectly – the ‘Guardian’ facility is in the base set. I have a three handset system and all the facilities can be operated from any of the handsets which are distributed around my home.

Around 3 years ago we were getting several junk calls a day of all types, silent hang up, something wrong with your computer, you’ve won something, investment and so on. I tried going ex-directory and submitting complaints to TPS but these were both about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
Then, fortunately, FTH came to our village (Gigaclear up to 1Gb symmetrical) and I decided to take advantage of VoIP (Vonage). No more land line, no more BT. I could have kept my old number, but decided on the rather drastic step of getting a new one at the same time. Since then, no more nuisance calls, peace at last. Of course it was ex-directory from the start.
So, if you can accept the hassle of letting anyone who really needs to know your new number, highly recommended.

Frankly, I think the campaign is a complete waste of time. The callers are not generally from recognisable UK companies, they are overseas call centres, individuals, scammers. I have had a BT call blocker for 18 months. I get 6 + calls a day, they don`t get through because they are all criminals and don`t want to be traced or recognised. The only way to stop them is for everyone to have a call blocker and then if they NEVER get through, they might give up the scam. Most of my calls now come from 10 digit “numbers” i.e digitally altered so no way do you know who is calling. Pointless to keep recording and reporting the millions of number combinations their systems use. A better campaign would be to legislate against legitimate companies and the NHS etc, from being able to call you without a recognisable number showing. Get their systems sorted and we will all know who is calling us.

In view of James’s response I am inclined to agree with Lorna that this campaign has reached the limit of its usefulness in the foreseeable future and that Which?’s efforts might be better deployed elsewhere. As James says, there is so much more to be done, and we all know the obstacles to progress, so it could take forever. When the wind is against you it is sometimes better to turn in another direction.

“companies who have call centres overseas will be required to display a valid number”.
What if they choose not to display a number? Or what if overseas cold calling organisations work on behalf of UK companies and choose not to disclose a number? I don’t see how you can stop numbers being hidden or, even if they are disclosed and are in a country that doesn’t care, there will be no progress. You see, I feel that unless we have a watertight blocking system any company that wants to cold call will simply find a way, like this, around the “problem”. Am I wrong?

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The technology for subscriber activated call-blocking through the exchange must be available. To save people spending even more millions on domestic apparatus it should be rolled out as a public service obligation on demand. Half way through the roll-out the necessity would collapse since the problem would have shrivelled up as auto-generated calls met a dead end but still cost money to make.

Presumably that means knowing the numbers to block. Companies will then just use different numbers.

Whilst we might moan about nuisance calls I have not seen any solution that will stop them. Have you?

That is right, Malcolm – the only way to block a call is to input the number [press Button B to do so], unless people could load all the numbers that they don’t want blocked [but there’s too much room for problems with that]. I just thought that through the sheer spread of call-blocking if it were made free and easy the traffic would eventually cease as unremunerative. Making this or that illegal has no effect whatsoever.

Ian says:
2 June 2016

None of the proposals or regulations take any steps whatsoever to cut off the market for leads generated by cold-calls. Until that happens, the blight will continue.

Thank you Ian. Sadly that seems to be the only conclusion. We are doomed . . . All doomed!

Rather than signing up for a very poor standard broadband service at my new home I have been waiting for the roll out of fibre broadband, making use of my mobile for both phone calls and tethering the computer to the mobile. In three days I should be connected and I decided to investigate the phone wiring, in particular why one of the phone sockets shows two numbers. I was surprised to hear a dialing tone and that the line was active. An hour later I received a marketing call. That’s before I have paid for the service or used the phone. 🙁

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There was no active line when I bought the house, so the line has been reactivated at some stage. I can ring my mobile OK, though I have not answered in case I get billed. The number that shows up on my mobile is one of the ones shown on the twin socket. My old home still has the wiring for two lines, dating from when I used a fax machine and dial-up, so that may be the reason.

After receiving four nuisance calls I unplugged the phones but plugged them in to test the wiring. Before I had finished finding and testing all the sockets I had another two nuisance calls. Five of the six calls mentioned the name of the previous occupant, so I’m very glad that I’m keeping my phone number.

Half an hour before the engineer called to install fibre broadband I plugged in a couple of phones and within that time I receive two nuisance calls for the previous occupiers. I said that they no longer lived at the address and one of the callers then decided to ask me to participate in a survey about my lifestyle. I never met the previous occupiers but I wonder if they moved was because they were hounded by nuisance calls. 🙁

I was surprised that there were no more calls during the two hour visit from the engineer but when he left I discovered that my number had been transferred from my previous house. Based on what has happened in the past year or so, I’m hoping to get no more than one nuisance call per day now.

I wonder what it costs to have a new number if you are plagued with nuisance calls.

Tracey says:
3 June 2016

I WAS receiving numerous calls almost every day, people trying to sell me things, wanting me to answer surveys, market researchers and also received a couple of scam calls. I registered with the TPS and as long as there was a number, would report to the sevice. Also instructed said callers to remove me from their database. The calls got less and less until now I only seem to receive them on my mobile phone and if the number isn’t stored in my phone they simply get rejected.

peter reilly says:
4 June 2016

For us, the worst nuisance callers are BT, trying to sell us broadband. We have a BT landline so they think that gives them the right to pester us about every couple of weeks, offering a package deal. I’ve told them repeatedly that I stopped using their broadband because of the poor service and slow speed; I now use airband [a radio based service for rural areas]. I’ve asked them repeatedly to delete me from their sales call list…only time will tell if they do.

David Boutle says:
4 June 2016

As regards the blocking of these calls, The threat of prosecution does not seem to stop them happening.. Since 23 May up to today, one caller has tried to contact us 12 times. All I can say is thank goodness for caller identification that we have on our system.

Just had a call from what I consider a nuisance caller, phone number 02085655254, he said he was calling to speak with me about my Microsoft computer. I pretended I did not understand him and that I did not have a computer or laptop as I did not understand them. He became very angry and said ” what are you a cheater or a liar”.
Calls from this type of person are not acceptable and would be very worrying for an older person.

Liz says:
10 June 2016

We have had 12 calls in the past 2 weeks from what comes up on our call blocker phone as ‘no number’. On our other phone which does not have call blocker the call doesn’t even register.