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Making a noise about silent phone calls

Phone off the hook

Ofcom today announced an action plan to tackle nuisance phone calls, and specifically silent or abandoned calls. Do you often pick up the phone to phantom, silent callers?

Nuisance calls – it’s an issue hundreds of you have told us is a problem, and we’re busily working behind-the-scenes on the issue. For example, last year we wrote to Ofcom, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the body that runs the Telephone Preference Service, to step up efforts to stop nuisance calls.

Ofcom’s research has shown that during a six-month period in 2012, 47% of all adults received a silent call on their landline. That’s up from just 24% in 2011! We’ve chatted a lot about nuisance marketing and scam calls here on Which? Convo, but we’ve been a bit silent on the issue of abandoned or silent calls. And they can definitely be annoying, if not unsettling if you get lots of them.

Silent calls are usually down to call centres using automated dialling equipment, which generate more calls than they have staff to deal with. So, if you pick up before a call centre operator is available to actually take the call, all you’ll hear on the end of the line is cold, hard silence.

Ofcom’s plan to tackle silent and abandoned calls

Ofcom’s action plan suggests commissioning new research to understand the frequency of nuisance calls; working with the industry to track down companies behind nuisance calls; and ongoing enforcement action with fines of up to £2m.

According to Ofcom’s rules, no more than 3% of a company’s calls in one day can be abandoned. To that effect, Ofcom ruled in 2012 that the number of abandoned calls made by HomeServe exceeded an acceptable call rate limit and issued the company with a fine of £750,000. Npower was also fined £60,000 by Ofcom for abandoning too many calls, and TalkTalk is still under investigation.

However, Ofcom’s main responsibility in this area is to tackle silent and abandoned calls. Ofcom doesn’t have the power to take enforcement action against companies making marketing calls – this is the ICO’s role. There’s definitely good reason to tackle the bigger picture, as 71% of landline customers said they received a live marketing call in the same six-month period that 47% said they had received a silent call.

So, although today’s announcement is a welcome initiative by Ofcom for silent calls, we want to hear something similar from the ICO.

I’ve personally never received a silent call, but I imagine it must be quite frightening to get one, especially if you’re home alone. Have you ever answered the phone to find silence on the other end of the line?

Have you ever suffered from silent phone calls?

Yes (95%, 2,008 Votes)

No (5%, 96 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,115

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Rob says:
3 July 2015

6 calls today 4 International, 1 Unavailable & 1 Witheld. 4 of which were in the evening, the latest being 20:53 None answered and not one left a message.

Peter Gordon says:
5 July 2015

Daily I receive at least five calls. I am out so it could be more. There are just two rings and it stops. 1471 reveals nothing and my call monitor just states “external”. When I pick up the phone there is just the dialling tone.

Rosemary S Banks says:
22 August 2015

I get at least half a dozen calls a day.they’re all from same number and are all silent they’re probably computer generated. I’ve reported to Oncoming and Silent guard and the TPS Service makes no difference am going away for 3 months so they can call all they want!!

Rosemary S Banks says:
22 August 2015

Oncoming should read Ofcom.

Martyn Williams says:
22 August 2015

What I do is play them at their own game:

Say hello, hello, when some one answers and asks are you Mr or Mrs so and so, say yes…….. they then go into their sales patter, it is at this stage I leave the call connected, but I go and do something else, returning to the phone after I have done my chore, I then pick the phone back up and say hello. 9 times out of 10 they have disconnected the call, if they happen to still be on the line just say mmmm that sounds good and repeat the above. its great fun

M.A. says:
9 December 2015

if you are with Talk Talk’ you can receive a number from them which you can dial after each nuisance call, this barres that number from calling you again. I think you can do that with 10 numbers,

Edwin says:
23 June 2016

We have Ofcom, ICO and TPS and all are supposed to be in existence to take action and stop unsolicited phone calls. They have absolutely tiddly squat effect.

Their websites ask for all sorts of information about a silent or abandoned phone call that you have received and that, at most, will only display a phone number. This must put off the majority of people from reporting the event.

They must have received enough information by now to take action against every one where a number is displayed.

I see no reason why they cannot provide the details on their websites of those silent/abandoned calls as well as scam calls, including thieves who are trying to rob you by accessing your computer and whose numbers have been reported so that we know who they are.

What do these organisations do? Why do they exist?

Had so many silent calls the other day I used 1471 to see who was calling. When I was given the number I was told to press 3 to return the call but a couple of times I was told to Please hang up. Does anyone know what the significance of this is to who or where the call was from?

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Ian says:
25 June 2016

Returning a call is chargeable.

Never return a call, especially if the number starts 070, 084, 087 or 09. With those you will be paying premium rates.

Good advice Duncan. Silent calls in my opinion are the worst kind. The best way to deal with persistent ones is to return the silence by not speaking when you pick up the phone. If there is no response, place your receiver on the table for a minute or two before hanging up. It is advisable to alert friends and family and ask them to speak first when they ‘phone you. This is usually only temporary but very effective, ensuring things soon return back to normal in a few days.

It’s the same when dealing with junk email. Be very wary about clicking on ‘unsubscribe’ or your email may be passed on to others. I have had very few silent calls but since these are sometimes used by burglars to find out if a property is empty, they are obviously of concern.

We get them regularly. This morning we had two around 8 am. One rushes downstairs to answer but there is nobody on the line.

Robert says:
6 March 2020

I receive anywhere from 6-14 silent calls a day starting at 3 AM, Some go to voicemail which are also silent. I have been spending a couple hours a week entering these into the “Do Not Call Registry” to no avail.
They all started shortly after I exchanged #’s with a gal on a dating site (my bad) whom seemed very personable and real on the site. She has never answered a call. Be aware with this. My e-mail has also blown-up.