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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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I’ve had so many cold calls that I now don’t bother to answer the phone, I just let it go to the answerphone. Many are silent and many are recorded messages, these are amusing when my answerphone kicks in, they talk to each other! It’s been many years since I have been able to use the phone as it was intended to be used.

john mccolgan says:
10 January 2013

I absolutely agree Jen, I do the self same thing. Infact my BT landline is so rarely used now (incoming and outgoing) that I’m starting to question if I actually need it. A fuuny quirk of the BT contract however is I must make 2 calls per month otherwise I have to pay a financial penalty. These calls can be non-chargeable by being included in my calling plan. Strange.

I too ‘just let it go to the answerphone’ – genuine callers leave a message.

This last few week I’ve been plagued by silent calls from insurance company RIAS. When they finally deigned to speak to me I gave them a mouthful and told them to remove from their lists. Hope it works.

Tony C says:
14 January 2013

If the call was silent how do you know it was RIAS? If have had as many as 6 silent calls in a day – it is really annoying as well as those doingso called “surveys” and similar activities.

If a company does not withhold their number, just do a Google search and you will find that someone has managed to identify the caller.

I have not had any cold or silent calls from insurance companies since registering with the TPS.

Read my post. It says, “When they finally deigned to speak to me”, after about twenty silent calls over a week they said who they were. Gives the game away. The number on caller ID was 08005610725.

Some calls aren’t silent for long, but they’re still annoying. It’s like answering the door to somebody who just stares at you for a few seconds before they say why they knocked on your door.

I got so many nuisance calls (slient or otherwise) that I bought a blocking device. I only know of two on the market:
* Trucall (about £100)
* CPR (about £50)
I bought the latter and it works very well. I set it to block ‘Unavailable’ calls and it blocks about one a day. So there’s no technical reason preventing BT doing what the gadget does.

Can the people at ‘Which’ find out why BT will block many types of call but not the type used most often by spammers to conceal their number (i.e. ‘Unavailable’).

The only thing that works effectively is a “trueCall” box or a handset with trueCall technology built in.

Unknown callers are automatically challenged. Junk calls hang up without your telephone handset ever ringing. Those who respond to the challenge are put through and you can then accept or reject the call. Known junk is automatically rejected. Previously approved numbers are put straight through.

CPR (Call Protection Registry) is on the list of “things to avoid” published by TPS on their website.

CPR blocks all unknown calls, including calls you may have wanted, e.g. from doctors, dentists, hospitals or from the police calling you to inform that a relative has had an accident.

No silent calls. My home number is pretty new so nobody really knows it yet.

But an aside on the subject of unavailable numbers, my parents, since changing away from BT, now come up as ‘unknown’. They’re definitely NOT silent calls! I wonder how these blocking devices work to not block genuine calls from unknown or unavailable numbers?

Jo Gibney wrote:
>”I wonder how these blocking devices work to not block genuine calls
>from unknown or unavailable numbers?”

I set the device to block ‘Unavailable’ calls. I’ve never had a genuine call from ‘Unavailable’ and I don’t believe I ever will. I’m sure the same applies to your calls.

I set the device to *allow* ‘Withheld’ calls. I have many calls that are ‘Withheld’.

You mention the term ‘Unknown’. I’ve also seen the term ‘Private’. These terms are sometimes put on the display. They’re really just other words for ‘Unavailable’ and ‘Withheld’ or a combination of both. I suspect your parents calls are ‘Withheld’ or possibly ‘International’ but it appears on your phone as ‘Unknown’.

Don’t take my word for it, there’s plenty of stuff online explaining it. Hopefully somebody from ‘Which’ will investigate these devices.
(I’m nothing to do with the company, just a satisfied user)

I find not saying anything when I answer the phone turns most calls into silent calls ( and by now anyone who knows me, knows that they MUST speak first).

And if they are silly enough not to hide their number then a quick couple of minutes filling in the form at least makes me feel a little better, although I’m sure nothing will come from it.

Since my last post I’ve had 3 silent calls.

I fear Ofcom/ICO have done so little for so long that whatever they end up with want help. I’m also concerned about the wording of their proposal , as it seems to give open season to anyone initiatinga call from outside the UK.

“Ofcom will write to businesses making calls in the UK warning them of the requirement that they abide by Ofcom’s rules on silent and abandoned calls.”

Taken from : http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/2013/01/action-plan-to-tackle-nuisance-calls/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweet&utm_campaign=consumerexperience

Scrumpydog says:
9 January 2013

As it happens I reported an incessant string of nuisance calls to Ofcom only yesterday. A combination of ‘silent calls’, a call centre agent demanding proof of identity (yeah right) or pretending they can’t hear you when you answer. I made it 55 calls in 2 weeks, anytime between 9am and 8.30pm. The caller was Santander Cards (who operate a store card unwittingly taken out by my partner, who bitterly regrets it).

It took a personal visit to a branch of Santander to sort the matter out and put a stop to the harassment. My tip is beware of stores offering the classic “10% extra off if you take out our card today” and beware in particular of Santander Cards.

john mccolgan says:
10 January 2013

I simply will not deal with any company linked to Santander. My thanks to Which for all the information about the various banks helped me to arrive at this decision. Scrumpydog’s experience augments my decision

Eyelid says:
11 January 2013

Santander seems to be hopelessly disorganised at banking, I had a whole lot of problems before I dumped my account with them, the most irritating being an inability to have any sort of fruitful communication with them. If I had 55 calls in two weeks from them after my experience, that would be rich. I would certainly have a few things to say to them……

Ally says:
10 January 2013

oooh Santander not on my good list too, but getting a bit off topic if not careful!

I too am fed up with ALL cold calls be they silent, ‘windows technical’, energy saving, ‘surveys’, PPI claiming etc. etc.

It’s long overdue that the regulator, preference service and phone service providers (what? lose money??) take effective action to totally stop these calls be they from UK or foreign sources. It’s got to the stage where we should just make them all illegal and for the phone line providers ( by force if necessary) automatically track these calls (it’s certainly not impossible with modern technology) and have it as a condition that reported numbers, once verified, are barred altogether.

It is not just a problem in the UK but is now widespread.

I am not frail or particularly elderly but know some people who are really frightened by them.

Any action will not totally prevent them but we should criminalise the activity and go all out to effectively eliminate the problem at source. For that real teeth are required not a voluntary code of conduct!

The TPS should certainly up their frames of reference. I certainly don’t want any phone calls that I haven’t asked for or from companies I already do business with about specific account related topics and not disguised calls as sales calls.

The TPS, OFCOM and the ICO need to be merged to have a single place to complain through unlike the current this type of call you complain to one , that type you complain to someone else.

None of that helps the end user, and only helps the companies that play fast and loss with the rules.

I also receive some silent calls. I also receive quite a few ‘information’ calls plus the overseas calls after my money. I am on the TPS list but it doesn’t seem to work very well. Over the last two weeks we have had more than four a day mixture. As I run a business from home I feel obliged to answer all calls.

Steve Morgan says:
10 January 2013

I work from home and have been plagued with interruptions to my working day (almost always while I’m on a call with someone else).

Being a techie, I have been looking for ages for an automated solution to the problem. I looked at the TrueCall nuisance call blocker, but it doesn’t offer the autonomy that I wanted.

Instead, I used a Raspberry Pi, a fantastic £25 computer, to put together my own telephone handling system. If a call is received from a withheld, unavailable or international number, the caller gets a message saying that “We don’t accept calls from blocked or international numbers” and are given the option to leave a message, just in case it’s a genuine call. The phones don’t ring and I’m not disturbed.

For those nuisance callers that do have an associated number, I add them to a blacklist or the system can automatically check with an external list of nuisance callers. If one of these calls, they hear a message that “this number is not in service” and the system hangs up. Again, the phones don’t ring and I’m not disturbed.

Only calls from a recognisable phone number that isn’t on my blacklist gets through. The volume of calls that come through has dropped by in excess of 90%.

It means that I get to decide what kind of calls I want and what I don’t, rather than relying on the whims of my telephone provider.

So we have call blocker gadgets like:
Trucall (£100)
CPR (£50)
Raspberry Pi (£25)
These can block ‘Unavailable’ calls – most nuisance callers are of this type.

BT blocking services (Choose to Refuse, Anonymous call reject) cost £94.20 per year. But BT won’t block ‘Unavailable’ calls.

Please ‘Which’, can you investigate why BT doesn’t provide a service to block ‘Unavailable’ calls?

Justin says:
11 January 2013

I get more marketing calls since I signed up to the TPS than before, most of them not in my name. Never happened before the TPS though.

We receive silent calls at least once a week showing the number 00000000000000 – don’t know how long it goes on for! Then come the sales calls, always from a person with an asian accent – don’t know if from UK or abroad. Anyway have recently taken the decision to check the number first and if zeros not to answer the call and so far haven’t had a sales call. Surely in the 21st century with all the technology that we have someone can come up with a simple solution to stop this persecution!

Angela says:
11 January 2013

I find that the silent call nuisance runs in phases so I have several days where I receive a lot of them (between 5 and 10 a day) and then they stop – it really is infuriating. I also suffer from a huge plague of recorded marketing calls especially for PPI claims (I have never had a loan or outstanding credit card balance during the time when this scheme was in existence). I have 3 different phone numbers at my house- 2 are with BT and 1 with Virgin and they are all as bad even though I signed up to the TPS some years ago!

Michael Ironmonger says:
11 January 2013

It seems that every day we get ‘Out of Area’ or International inspite of suscribing to the TPS. As we have caller indentify service we can at least ignore them and let our answer machine take over. As I understand it TPS does not apply to ‘Out of Area or International’ calls. It’s about time that it did.

Mike the bellringer says:
11 January 2013

Along similar lines to William, I find it strange that in order to report nuisance calls to the TPS, this is done via the ICO. Despite being registered with TPS, we frequently receive unwanted calls from UK companies (we have caller display) most frequently about debt resolution and PPI and almost always recorded messages (although we had a “live” one from the Liverpool area recently offering to service our vacuum cleaner). We occasionally receive silent calls from non-UK numbers (but could be via Skype?) which appear as “unavailable” or “out of area” depending on the phone being used but we are also get a number of “boiler room” scam calls. Many of these use my last Christian name (which I don’t) which fortunately is a complete give away especially after a warning from the FSA that this name was on a list being used by scammers. We cannot block unavailable numbers as we occasionally receive calls from my brother-in-law who lives in Canada.
I am now making a point of reporting all unsolicited UK calls where the numbers is displayed to ICO.

Mike the bellringer wrote:
“We cannot block unavailable numbers as we occasionally receive calls from my brother-in-law who lives in Canada.”

Calls from Canada and USA should only ever be:
* Number shown (the first part of the number may be missing)
* International
* Withheld
It’s very unlikely to be ‘Unavailable’. If you see ‘Unavailable’ then there’s you need to get a handset that can decode the information better, or he’s with a very dodgy phone company.

Robert C says:
11 January 2013

It is high time the law was changed so that companies cannot hide their number – as a minimum they should show their head office number, and the head office have to accept that they are responsible for their sales staff and the calls they make, even in a branch office. What reputable sales organisation does not want to be contacted?

What is the point of the data protection registrar saying they will follow up issues if you tell them the number of the offender, when the offender can hide their identity?

I fear that the telephone companies make too much money out of telesales to be interested in helping to stop unwanted sales calls (assuming TPS has been used)

@caitlin, Does this rule state actually call centres? I had a call from a division of my bank the other day, from their office and so not a call centre, And they withheld their number. The poor operator got very upset with me when I refused to confirm my details before she could prove she was ringing from were she claimed to be ringing from. If they hadn’t “blocked” their number I could have avoided this, although I know some companies certainly ringing from oversea can spoof numbers.

Sandra says:
11 January 2013

Makes me so cross! I now answer International calls with a stoney silence and unless they are family or friends I have silence at the other end until the line goes dead!
Unavailable ones I don’t answer! Unfortunately Witheld can mean the Doctors surgery, police or hospital so I have to answer them. TPS doesn’t work been on their list for years!

MANDATORY CALLER ID would be a good start. Make BT programme their exchanges to reject calls without an ID. Get OFCOM to make it illegal for false ID tagging and get the government to crack the whip to make OFCOM do their job

Historically, OFCOM has been a useless QUANGO: it’s time for a change.

PS before all those objectors against caller id start howling, tell me how many of you write a letter without including your address?

Justin says:
11 January 2013

Actually agree with this, what is the reason to hide your address. At my company for the phones that shouldnt recieve direct calls we put reception, so unless you are trying to do something dodgy, is there any legit reason for withholding?

The only reason I can think any genuine company ( and I say that tongue in check knowing what I’m about to write) wanting to hide their number is so that you don’t get to know a cheaper number than the expensive service numbers they like to use.

A doctors office hiding its number, what is the point. How many people ring their doctors to make appointments and therefore know it already? So 99.9% of people would already know a number. Madness.

I’m all in favour of blocking any call from a business ( regardless of type ) that isn’t showing a genuine phone number and not silly numbers like 000000000000 .

I have been using caller display since before most people even heard of it, long before I had any problem with unwanted calls. The problem of withheld numbers and private numbers has always been a mystery to me.

I get calls from organisations that withhold their phone numbers. The callers usually don’t have any idea of why this is done but I get the impression that there is a genuine need for this. I know one organisation that expects all incoming calls to go through their switchboard rather than direct to the who I might judge to be the most relevant person.

Even if the caller’s number is not displayed, it would be useful to have some information about which organisation has called.

wavechange wrote:
I get calls from organisations that withhold their phone numbers. …

Even if the caller’s number is not displayed, it would be useful to have some information about which organisation has called.

The key phrase is:
‘Presentation number’.

Do a web search:
site:ofcom.org.uk presentation-number

Also search the newsgroup ‘uk.telecom’:

These companies have their own private exchanges and they can programme them to display the number they want people to use. They leave them blank,witheld or use all zeros because they don’t want you to call them or because they don’t want to be identified.

There’s absolutely no reason in the 21st Century for anonymity other than crooked practises. It should be stopped at the top level.


You are right in saying that organisations can choose what we get to see via caller display. My former employer, a university, routinely withheld numbers except during clearing.

I have recently had calls from a local government office, a large charitable trust, and a consumer organisation. Sorry, but I don’t think any of them are involved in ‘crooked practices’, and all called me because I had provided my phone number. I don’t know why their organisations choose not to release their number via caller display.

What about all the people who are ex-directory? I wish everyone was listed in the directory but I’m sure that some have reasons not to be included.

I wonder if it should be made legal to record unsolicited phone calls. “This call may be recorded as evidence that you have ignored the fact that I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service”. 🙂

wavechange wrote:
>I wonder if it should be made legal to record unsolicited phone calls.

It already is legal.

Can I record telephone conversations on my home phone?

Yes. The relevant law, RIPA, does not prohibit individuals from recording their own communications provided that the recording is for their own use. Recording or monitoring are only prohibited where some of the contents of the communication – which can be a phone conversation or an e-mail – are made available to a third party, ie someone who was neither the caller or sender nor the intended recipient of the original communication. For further information see the Home Office website where RIPA is posted.

Do I have to let people know that I intend to record their telephone conversations with me?

No, provided you are not intending to make the contents of the communication available to a third party. If you are you will need the consent of the person you are recording.

Thanks Bob. I see that I can record a conversation for personal use but not pass on the recording. That could be useful to produce an accurate report about scam calls.

I wonder whether it would be legal to record the discussion after announcing that the conversation would be recorded – in the same way that many companies and organisations do for staff training and other declared purposes.

Interesting that there are ‘laws’ about recording phone calls. Does this cover Skype because I usually record Skype calls if they are business calls?

And how does this fit in with the government’s proposals to make central recordings of ALL phone calls and email traffic?

wavechange wrote:
I wonder whether it would be legal to record the discussion after announcing that the conversation would be recorded – in the same way that many companies and organisations do for staff training and other declared purposes.

Yes that would be legal. If one person is aware then it’s legal.

If both people are aware then it may be possible to pass on the recording to third parties without further notice. Either party has the option to cease the call or choose what to reveal. That would seem to be legal to me but I can’t confirm it.

Terry Farrell wrote:
>Does this cover Skype because I usually record Skype calls if they are business calls?

The law covers ‘communication’. Recording Skype calls is legal as long as one party is aware. It doesn’t matter if it’s business or private.

>And how does this fit in with the government’s proposals to make central recordings
>of ALL phone calls and email traffic?

Recording communication (voice calls, text, email) without the consent of either party is covered by different laws or different sections of the same laws (current or proposed). As you would expect.

“And how does this fit in with the government’s proposals to make central recordings of ALL phone calls and email traffic?”

I think you’ll find that they’ve watered that down to only holding details of date time from and to and not actual content. To record actual content would require other laws e.g. anti terrorism. iirc e&oe


I think I may support the proposed logging of all calls as long as the government releases the information on request so that we are able to follow up silent and unsolicited calls to take legal action.

Louise says:
11 January 2013

As well as receiving these type of calls on my landline I have had the odd one to my mobile phone. Unfortunately whilst I was abroad I received 3 recorded message type calls to my mobile. I didn’t answer the calls but because my voicemail cut in I still had to pay for receiving them. This had never occurred to me, but in future I will turn off my voicemail when leaving the UK. If my family need me they will have to text instead!

Unfortunately I have given up on having anyone do anything to help me stop these calls. I now resort to not answering numbers I don’t recognise, “caller ID withheld” and “out-of-area” calls. I feel I have no other option.

I hope I don’t regret not answering an important call some day!