/ Technology

How can we cut off nuisance calls for good?

Our Conversation on nuisance calls has touched a raw nerve. It’s not often that an option in our poll gets less than 1% support – so far only 17 out of 1,395 voted that ‘the Telephone Preference Service is excellent’.

The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) states ‘this free service gives you the opportunity to select who contacts you by telephone. Once registration is complete telemarketers are legally bound not to call you’.

I’m therefore not at all surprised that so far 73% of you think the TPS doesn’t ‘do what it says on the tin’ – because it doesn’t block all unwanted calls and doesn’t even cover text messages.

Tonight’s BBC Panorama exposes how rogue firms get around the rules on unwanted calls, and for some of them it’s as simple as tearing pages out of a local phone directory and ringing up people at random!

Who can actually take action?

So what can we do about this? Of course it’s not as straightforward as we’d like. There is a complicated hotch-potch of organisations involved. The key one is the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as it has the power to take action, rather than the TPS.

We’ve now had a reply to our letter – sent from Which? and nine other organisations from Hearing Link to Ofcom’s Communications Consumer Panel – to the ICO, Ofcom and the Direct Marketing Association (which runs the TPS). They’ve invited us to meet them this month at a meeting of their ‘Unsolicited SMS and Voice Working Party’.

Enforcement against breaches of unwanted texts and most calls falls to the ICO under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). On the other hand, Ofcom is responsible for enforcement of silent and abandoned automatic calls.

In the ICO’s reply, it sets out some of things it’s doing to tackle unwanted texts. The bottom line though is that, just like you or me, the ICO’s problem is working out who the sender is. The result is that it has fined just one company in 18 months.

Complaining about unwanted sales calls

To assist the ICO’s intelligence, it now offers an ‘online reporting mechanism’ for consumers to report unwanted texts (and calls) which it hopes will provide additional information to help it track down the nuisance firms.

Just as we thought, the ICO has seen a boom in unwanted calls and texts about claiming PPI compensation and for personal injury claims – in other words from claims management companies. So please do try out the ICO’s spam reporting form on its website.

We’ll be probing further into what investigations the ICO is carrying out and what enforcement action is in the pipeline when we go to see all three organisations later this month. We’ll also ask if the confusing responsibility for tackling unwanted calls and texts is part of the problem.

Another obvious tricky issue is how to deal with nuisance calls from overseas. From your comments, it seems that lots of you have received them and yet there’s little we can do – the TPS can’t block overseas calls. One wonders if the boom in unwanted texts and calls opens up an unnecessary market in paid-for call blocking services provided by many telecom firms?

How does the Telephone Preference Service work for you?

It’s rubbish - I get lots of nuisance calls (76%, 3,204 Votes)

It’s OK - I only get the odd nuisance call (15%, 615 Votes)

I’m not registered with the Telephone Preference Service (8%, 339 Votes)

It’s excellent - I don’t get any nuisance calls (1%, 35 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,196

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Howard Jones says:
23 April 2015

Even though I was registered to thr TPS I was still getting some ppi , accident claim calls etc,
so I tried a different tact.
Hanging up didn’t do the trick.
So I record all the calls and told them I was doing it.
Asked the callers name and the company they work for.
Asked them the name of the company who supplied my number.
Asked them if I was (obviously) on their data base.
Politely asked them to remove it.
Did this about four times
I feel a bit lonely now .
Most of the calls must origionate from a small number of data centres.
Just a bit of advice.

P.S. A good recording programme.

Quo says:
7 May 2015

I was called recently by someone who claimed a Policeman in Manchester had given them my name regarding a recent accident. I questioned him, and said that no Policeman would pass on private numbers. He was lying and I told him, then I put the phone down. He immediately called back and started to abuse me – in an offensive sexual way. I had to unplug my phone. The calls continued the next day. I have now got caller ID and had to buy a new phone.
How can cold calling be legal? No one can ever gain by this practice – apart from the dodgy companies that practice it.
I have tried to report this to http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/ but the site is so difficult to use I have given up. I’m also not sure that it would be feasible to do anything about this particular caller. I would prefer to support action to ban all cold calls.

Jenny says:
11 July 2015

Ever since I bought the BT phone, with Call Guardian, I have not had one overseas cold call at all, I belong to the streetlife where I live, and have suggested it on the site.. several people have now got phones with Call Guardian and say they love them, as the caller has to give his name , and scrolling through unwanted calls on my phone, I see a lot that have been blocked by the Call Guardian, do yourselves a favour people. get a landline with Call Guardian, you can even buy them at Tesco or Argos or Curry’s

Henry says:
12 July 2015

I vet all my calls through my telephone answer record and only talk to the people I can identify or want to the scammers will not talk to a machine

Bobchip says:
20 July 2015

In spite of TPS etc, I get a lot of cold calls including the usual charity calls. However, when I got a call from one charity which I have supported for years (RSPB), asking me to “at least double” my standing order, I decided I had had enough. I made it clear that I was going to cancel the standing order, and as soon as I had put the phone down I did so.

The caller was (apparently) horrified, but I made it clear to him that the cancellation was a simple and direct consequence of his unsolicited call. Unfortunately this option is only open to you where you already contribute regularly to a charity, but if all of us did this every time we were cold called there would be many fewer of them.

This is of course very tough on charities trying to raise money, but my view is that if they sink to such unscrupulous means to raise money, then they have lost sight of their charitable objectives and no longer deserve our support.

Mark Tutte says:
24 July 2015

I have been using a call blocker successfully for over a year. It is programmed to reject calls from international and withheld numbers. Over the last week I have had three unsolicited calls from cold callers using numbers which come up on caller display and thus get through. Is this a new tactic they are using? Do they now use other lines when they realise their calls are being blocked? At least now I can report them to the Telephone preference Service but they seem to be powerless to act. I have now written to Number 10 suggesting that instead of increasing the fines they should just outlaw all cold calling.

Straker says:
27 July 2015

Hi Mark,
Yes, I deduced the same as you too! They have been hitting on defunct local numbers and using them to try to gull people into thinking they are indeed local! I used to have sport with these idiots, but have grown tired of that now. I simply don’t answer the phone…until it has stopped ringing, then immediately dial 1471 (free). If the number looks relevant to my life, then I will ring back, but it is usually this garbage. It is surprising how few calls I actually get now…and at no expense to me, i.e buying gadgets to block them, why the blazes should we all, we pay enough to the phone companie as it is!

25 July 2015

The best thing to do is just say hang on ill go and get him/ her now, then after 30 seconds or so pick the phone up and say they won’t be long now !!! keep doing this they will hang up your costing them money for nothing and they won’t phone you again !

01189030000, 0112886394, 3 Private Callers=4 hours. TPS is toothless and ineffective.

I’M receiving a Cold calling company Based in Lancashire & Solihull It’s a Loan company pretending to be EE ..I I Knew it wasn’t EE by what he said next..He knew my name he said he was from EE ..He said he heard my phone contract Was due for renewal which was odd as i only just recently upgraded my phone contract Two months ago from TypeMail,mobile onto EE .I said I only just upgrade I said shall I double check that with the real EE and not the bogus company that you are he put the phone down. .I phoned EE up they said it wasn’t them who called me I made them aware this number 0161 854 406070 was pretending to be From EE I looked on google I found It startling they had contacted various other people &also told them they where from EE it was a bogus scam company a loan company So it says but It is phoning Alot of people and saying they are from EE the company is based at two addresses one at Lancashire and the other at solihull west midlands..lots of complaints have been made against them But they are still phoning scores of people..So if you get a cold call from 0161 854 406070 they are not from EE As i checked with my mobile phone compsny Who I’m already with which is the real EE.Also the real EE is not based in Lancashire other Solihull..Don’t give them any of your personal information And don’t Give out your bank details if In doubt contact the real EE On 150 ..The bogus Company will know your name because they new mine I didn’t give them my address is also Didn’t give them my bank details..Many people have already been conned by this cold calling company by handing out personal information and their bank details Please Be aware and check always If you are unsure but HARRY from The real EE mobile phone company said this number it not from EE Always double check Also EE wouldn’t phone you If your coming to the end of your phone contract Which is another flag to look out for

For some weeks now I have had no nuisance calls at all, having previously had 3 or 4 per day despite being signed up to the TPS, but today 25th May 2016 they restarted, with two from men with South Asian accents purporting to be from Windows and Microsoft followed by a recorded message about PPI. Does anyone know why they should suddenly have restarted?
I don’t know what numbers they come from as cut off the calls immediately I hear the introductions or that it is a recorded message. I have signed the Which petition and complained to the regulator, but am unhappy that these nuisance calls still continue despite the changes that should have taken place from 16th May.

I have not had a cold call for years because I bought a TrueCall Call Blocker after seeing it on Dragons’ Den. It’s the best thing I’ve ever bought! Its a bit more expensive than the other products on the market but I really recommend it.

I am disappointed that we don’t yet have a technical solution to put an end to nuisance calls and having everyone buy a call blocker seems a very inefficient solution.

I transferred my phone number from one house to another and discovered that caller display did not work. On investigation, I discovered that it is still an optional feature, even though I had assumed it had become standard. Rather than having call blocking done by millions of people buying a call blocker, perhaps the service could be built into landline and mobile phone systems. Like caller display, call blocking could be an optional facility.

This is the question that keeps being asked and, apart from duncan, no-one – including Which? and the author has provided an answer – is there a technical solution that will stop all unwanted calls? So no good banging our heads against a brick wall if there is not a practical technical solution available. We need to concentrate then on making the best of a bad job and proposing ways of reducing the large majority of unwanted calls. For the remainder then buying a call blocker may be the best answer.

A bit like wanting to stop burglary; it is against the law, we don’t want it but we can’t stop it. But we can take precautions to minimise its likelihood.

Since you have replied to my comment, please can I ask what’s wrong with my suggestion?

Provide call blocking as an optional feature of the phone service rather than everyone having to install a call blocker.

There is nothing wrong with your, or any suggestion that can be practically implemented to block all calls. I question whether this is technically feasible or practical – a question that I would hope someone can answer.

Although I “replied” to you wavechange it was as much to keep my comment linked to the relevant bit of the convo so it can be seen in context. Sometimes people seem to think “replying to” to or quoting from a contributor is making an attack on their views; not so. It is the best way I can see to deal with keeping the thread. 🙂

Given that there is no way technically for a telephone system to recognise a call as being a nuisance until a recipient lists it or reports it as such, the holy grail of stopping nuisance calls is to have the blocking technology installed in the telephone system centrally and as soon as three subscribers [or whatever number is considered reasonable] report a call as a nuisance the number is blocked across the whole system both outgoing and incoming.

A good way to disrupt legitimate business if you (three or more) wish to, perhaps.

Earlier this year we learned of a company that made 46 million nuisance calls before it was fined. No doubt there will be some people who would act maliciously to get a company into trouble, but provided that there is real evidence of nuisance calls, I would like to see action and not wait for the problem to grow.

Maybe ICO staff could investigate the nuisance calls they receive rather than expecting us to report them.

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I realised, Malcolm, that anything relying on personal reports would be open to malicious use so assumed there would have to be some form of evidence and confirmation from the authorities before a total denial of service was implemented.

Now that I have fibre broadband I might take an interest in the technical side, but my current interest is in the possibility that switching from copper to fibre to convey phone calls might offer new ways of tackling the problem of nuisance calls. That might just be wishful thinking.

I’ve definitely got FTTP because I watched the engineer showed me the fibre in a box outside the front door.

I agree John. The same can happen reporting to Trading Standards (via the CAB). Someone has to spend the time to ensure genuine and valid complaints have been made before action can be contemplated.

I wonder how we could implement denial of service to overseas sources?

Ian says:
16 July 2016

Reports to Trading Standards go via The Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline, not via Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.

“CA” and “CAB” are two separate things.

CA is a national organisation that replaces Consumer Direct.

CAB is a network of local offices that help people with various issues.

Apparently “Citizens Advice, previously Citizens Advice Bureau….is a network of 316 independent charities throughout the United Kingdom that give free, confidential information and advice to assist people with money, legal, consumer and other problems”. according to Wiki. If so I don’t know why names have to keep changing when the function is the same.

John – It seems inconceivable that any company or other organisation would have its phone service withheld as a punishment unless there was evidence that it (or another company under its instruction) was using its phone service to make nuisance calls.

It would be interesting to find out if the phone service provider can legally withhold a company’s phone service for making nuisance calls. The last time I looked at my terms and conditions, I saw that my provider reserves the right to terminate my service for many reasons, but that is a domestic line and commercial services will operate under different rules.

Even if the phone service provider can withhold its service to a company, would it do so and under whose instruction?

So long as the telecoms service provider was collecting revenue from a caller I suspect it would not be noticing any improper use of its network unless it was under a regulatory obligation to do so – i.e. by first having reasonable grounds of suspicion and then listening in.

It might be simpler all round for the government to pay for a free call-blocking device for every household that wants one [more useful than a smart meter in most cases so people should have a choice].

I am receiving quite a lot of unwanted calls I tried being polite at first but the caller doesn’t listen so I tried being rude they still keep ringing it’s a company who call themselves Perfect Benefits they don’t leave their number when i check some are very argumentative (had one today said he was Allan I told him I do not want to answer his questions he kept on talking then said he would talk later, they just don’t get it . I am registered with TPS but these callers still get through really sick of it.

You might like to check with the TPS to see whether “Perfect Benefits” is a member; if so you should report their persistent cold calling and refusal to desist. Also report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office as cold calling by a TPS member, or by any firm after being informed that calls are not wanted, is an offence.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan – it’s Ver who is being repeatedly troubled by a company calling itself “Perfect Benefits”. It sounds completely fraudulent to me and could indeed also be ripping-off the American company with the same name. I have advised Ver what to do to check and report this case of offensive cold calling.

Colin Morris says:
16 February 2017

I’ve now had about forty pre-recorded messages offering free boiler replacement for those on benefits, which I’m not. Each message comes from a different ten digit phone number which cannot be recognised
on calling back. There is an option to press 9 to stop the calls, but it doesn’t work. I’ve told ICO and hope they can do something. There have been 4 calls today!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Numerous calls about expired warranty on various electrical appliances.

Simone Whittaker says:
21 January 2021

Had five cold call started 08:10 this morning all from different two purporting to be amazon three just dear customer your internet being switched off. All scams. If I was not aware of this older persons could be very distressed with the current climate, internets etc are life lines to some. It despicable distressing and inconvenient for some as they then have to check. Shame on these unscrupulous people.

Miriam Ferryman says:
17 May 2021

Telephone preference is not working so many unwanted calls

Hi Miriam, TPS only stops honest marketeers from calling you. Call blocking phones or services are a much more effective solution to the problem of nuisance calls.

3 November 2021

I am almost at the end of my tether with cold callers from various numbers. The more I block the more I get. The vast majority read the same script in that I had a road traffic accident and am due compensation. Others are to do with energy or insurance . I have registered with TPS which cuts them down for a spell but after a few weeks I’ll get one then every following day I’m dealing with a further 3 or 4. They always address me by using my first name, they clearly know my number but how do they get this information. Like a previous comment, I am sparing with any information I give when filling in a form or buying from the internet. I do not give my mobile number and never tick a box where I would be agreeing to further marketing from any company. What is the government doing about this? It is a gross intrusion of my private and every day life. I am smart enough to deal with these callers and although I am in my late sixties I’ve not lost the plot yet. I feel sorry for elderly people who are perhaps not up to speed with technology and easy targets for these types of con-artists.