/ Technology

We need action to cut off fake phone numbers

We know you hate nuisance calls. But there’s another twist in this modern day menace – ‘spoofed calls’. Ofcom estimates as many as two billion nuisance calls are made each year using fake numbers…

You know what it’s like; you’re sat by your phone waiting for an important call, when it suddenly rings. You look down and see it’s withheld number. You answer just in case. And then the automated voice kicks in telling you you’ve been in an accident.

In recent weeks I’ve been touring the country talking to the public about their experiences of nuisance calls and meeting politicians to discuss how we can tackle the problem. The one thing I heard time and again was, ‘so many of them don’t show a number, so I’ve just stopped answering them’.

Watch out for number spoofing

But now there’s another trick that companies are using to get you to answer you phone – they’re ‘spoofing’ numbers. Call centres are using software to fool your phone’s caller ID system to hide their real identity. This means they can make it look like they’re calling from another number, including from a local area code.

This isn’t always done for devious reasons – some companies display a freephone number so you can call them back without being charged. However, the number of nuisance calls using spoofing technology is rising, with Ofcom estimating that as many as two billion nuisance calls are made using fake numbers each and every year. And the real kicker is that this allows nuisance calling companies to bypass the call blocking device you might have bought.

Government must keep its promises

While it’s illegal for companies to spoof numbers, with fines of up to £2m, it’s so far been difficult for the regulator to prosecute anyone.

That’s why we want the Government to keep its promises on making firms give valid numbers when making outbound marketing calls. Not only will this help you decide whether to answer the phone, it will make it easier to report unwanted calls.

Have you ever had a phone call from a local area code only for it to be a nuisance caller at the end of the line?


Fines are unlikely to help because they can be passed on to customers in the form of increased costs.

The effective solution for spoofed calls is to instruct the service provider to withdraw telephone services from rogue companies. Perhaps one day for the first offence, a week for the second and a month for the third offence. Exactly the same solution could be used for nuisance calls.

Nick says:
18 August 2015

I’m not sure how this would work, because in my case, I’m not a customer.. I’m being contacted by companies attempting to make me their customer, these companies cannot therefore pass costs onto me. Also, how does one report a rogue company to the service provider when there’s no way of knowing who the company is (if they are using random numbers)?

“making firms give valid numbers when making outbound calls”. I agree with this, but some have commented elsewhere that you may want some numbers “withheld” for personal reasons – your hospital, doctor or embarrassing clinic for instance. I don’t see this as a good reason so would support all callers having to show their numbers.However this will not work for overseas calls will it?- they can simply show up as “international”. You will not know if it is a valid call or a nuisance.

As far as penalties go, I agree with wavechange – fines are just a business expense. And if you can’t get to the perpetrators any penalty seems pointless. The last “unexpected” call I got that I didn’t answer had a number that emanated from Brazil. I’d probably won their lottery but will never know.

Malcom r, you said “they can simply show up as “international”. You will not know if it is a valid call or a nuisance”.
But surely they are all nuisance?
Have you ever had one which was “valid”?
What would you consider valid come to that?

Chris, I have family in Canada and Florida and calls from them show up as international.

Kevin says:
26 October 2016

My daughter was in China and her mobile phone number showed on my display and now she and another daughter are in Ireland and their numbers both show.

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duncan, hacking presupposes we are saying something that we shouldn’t and someone else is interested. No one would be interested in the content of my phone calls, and if they really want to waste their time listening to them then let them. I don’t send personal information that way. If, however, there are people making calls that could be harmful to others then I don’t mind them being intercepted and acted on.

What I am saying is I’ve nothing to hide, I look after my personal details, so why should I be paranoid? I’m far more concerned about the ambitions of individuals in other countries – USA, Russia, N Korea, for example. I’m happy for their calls to be hacked.

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Vanessa – Am I to take it that Which? still thinks there is a legitimate requirement for cold calling? Did you find anyone who welcomed cold calls whilst you were traveling the country?

” But I really think we’ve waited long enough for a proper crackdown that cuts the problem off at source. Which? wants to see some action and I know many of you agree.” Richard Lloyd March 2013

“Lets call time on nuisance calls” seemed so final in 2013 however the stance seems different now.

dieseltaylor, You make a very valid point. I too have yet to see anything from “Which” suggesting cold calling should be outlawed.
That implies “Which” does not support a cold call ban?
If so I too therefore would challenge anyone at “Which” to explain just what they would consider a legitimate cold call?
I would further challenge “Which” to produce figures suggesting any support what so ever from consumers regarding cold calling?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
The default for any cold calling for the purposes of surveying or marketing should be “opt out” and therefore illegal. If there actually is anyone happy to receive these calls then they can “opt in” and get as many as they like, “fill your boots”.
However as many of these calls come from overseas the way to deal with those is to give everyone an on/off overseas call blocking switch facility.
How hard is it to introduce a solution like this, which I’m sure the vast majority of people would be quite happy with?

Why isn’t “Which” campaigning along these lines?
And again why does “Which” seem to consider some cold calling legitimate when just about every consumer considers it an unwelcome intrusion? Please explain.

Chris, Which? have been asked many times what they consider a legitimate cold call so don’t expect an answer any time soon.

Recently, it was highlighted that charities use cold calling firms to extort money from people.

A reporter went under cover to one of these companies and it was disgusting the methods used to coerce people to part with their money.

When is the government going to say we have a right to peace and privacy in our own homes and ban all cold-calling?

twinkletoes 34 says:
16 August 2015

I agree the government should do something I am aged &2 very ill with Lung cancer’heart failure chronic kidney disease spondoloitis and more hypertension ,
Which elevates and makes me more ill when theses idiots phone.

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My most frequent nuisance calls are “International”, which I don’t answer but I have noticed that some of those are now adding or substituting spoof numbers – fortunately they mostly spoof with international numbers, so I still know they are the dreaded “international”. However, I have answered the odd one which has spoofed with a UK number. I don’t see how any organisation in this country can stop firms overseas from doing this. I have had to warn my relatives in New Zealand that if they want to speak to me they will have to leave a message on the voicemail for me to ring back. Normally we use email because it is free (and you don’t have to work out whether you might be waking them up!).

Peter, an overseas call blocking on/off switch would solve the problem. It’s all very well not answering an unrecognised caller ID number but the damn thing still rings, it’s still a distracting intrusion. You could still book calls to your relatives by advanced email. Small price to pay for piece and quiet wouldn’t you say?

I do not answer withheld or international calls or any calls from numbers I do not recognise that includes local calls. caller display is well worth the small amount of money you pay.

The difficulty with not answering’ Witheld’ calls is that people such as doctors and hospitals have the habit of using this. Thus you could miss important calls this way.’

What is happening elsewhere:



Seems no consumers like it but the carriers who must be getting some financial benefit just do not care.

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Don’t believe it’s not possible for the likes of BT to block international calls.
Don’t believe it’s not possible to give everyone a simple on/off overseas call blocking switch.
Bet if legislation to that effect were passed it would happen.

Your call blocker sounds great but I don’t feel we should have to effectively pay protection money by buying such a device.
By the way I doubt a 1000 number blocking facility will be enough in the longer term.

@chris, I got a call blocking phone a few months back the caller has to speak their name and press # before the phone even rings. 99% of nuisance calls regardless of where they come from get passed it. I say 99% cos I’m sure one day one will, but I’m still waiting.

I find the white list feature allows people who don’t hide their number and who I don’t mind calling me a great help as it’ll be a long list compared with the nuisance callers list.

And yes It’s wrong that I had to pay for it, but as the comms companies and regulators aren’t doing enough I’ve had to.

Maybe which should review call blocking phones/devices. I’ll give mine 5/5 stars to start the ball rolling

You can’t block spoofing calls because the whole point is the company uses a different spoof number every time the phone deliberately in order to get around call blocking. I have had several such calls myself and I rely on call blocking to prevent cold calls but if you read the article above they are spot on, this is a very effective means of getting around call blocking.

I totally agree with you. It stops cold calls from automated systems and most others as they don’t want to say who they are. I am extremely pleased with this phone system.

However I don’t like the advertising for these nuisance call blocking phones. They describe the phone as blocks ‘up to 100%’ of nuisance calls. This actually tells me nothing. This means it stops between none and all nuisance calls!

As you say, ‘up to’ is meaningless, yet it is widely used in marketing to misrepresent products and services. I would like to see the term outlawed for commercial purposes.

@wendy you can block spoofing calls, I do with my phone. I don’t care what number they call from unless they spoof a number on my white list, which is very small so unlikely.

The beauty of my phone is you have to say something and press hash otherwise my phone doesn’t ring so automated diallers are prevented from annoying me cos they cant do that, Although in time I guess they will but in the meantime, silence ah.

wavechange, Which? (presumably also the judicial system) use the term – see above intro: “While it’s illegal for companies to spoof numbers, with fines of up to £2m,” I think I know what that means. It’s up to the marketeers to choose words – don’t they employ “wordsmiths”? – and there are far worse examples than that. Try the DFS “half price” sale that is interminable.

I’m not sure if we can blame Which? for referring to fines of up to £2m since that is the description used by Ofcom. Perhaps Which? helped encourage Ofcom to push up the maximum fine from the previous maximum of £50k. My view is that suspending rogue companies’ phone service for a period could be more effective than fines.

In general the larger companies manage to avoid complaints being upheld against them but my view is that the ASA should be much tougher on what constitutes misrepresentation.

Kevin peters says:
9 February 2016

There is another option to block whole blocks of numbers with sub fix or area say number starting 01932423416 you can use first four digits to block all numbers starting with those four digits so 1000 become 1 billion blocked numbers

Ian says:
18 July 2015

A system based on trueCall is even more effective. It stops unwanted calls from bothering you wherever they originate while still giving genuine calls a chance to get through.

Ian says:
18 July 2015

A system based on trueCall is even more effective. It stops unwanted calls from bothering you wherever they originate while still giving genuine calls a chance to get through.

It is very disappointing to hear those who simply do not understand this issue repeating this nonsense years after it was effectively dismissed in debate.

CLI is valuable for identifying incoming calls from numbers that are recognised, but of no real value in identifying the caller in other cases. It can also be valuable for making a return call to the person who called you, but this is rendered worthless if the return call simply leads to a recorded message identifying the company, or call centre, who made the call. One could argue that outbound-only call centres should therefore not be permitted to give CLI, unless there is a reasonable prospect of the number being recognised.

Every voice telephone call should begin with the caller clearly and accurately identifying themselves, as neccesary. I would argue that any failure to comply with this requirement should be treated in the same way as a “Silent Call” – if habitual, a persistent misuse of the telephone network.

All CLI from outbound call centres is “spoofed”, as the line from which the call is made is not used for incoming calls. Is that perhaps why the quoted Ofcom figure is so high? If Ofcom was aware of abuse on the scale implied, then it would have serious questions to answer about why it had taken no action – a little hyperbole, perhaps!

The most absurd suggestion of all is the idea that compelling provision of CLI will make it easier to report cases of regulations being breached. I repeatedly offer the suggestion that burglary would be easier to stop if all burglars were required by law to leave a business card with a recent photo, permanent address and daytime telephone number. I do not expect that suggestion to be taken seriously – maybe some would disagree!

There are many serious things that can and should be done to address the menace of nuisance calls. It is unfortunate that those who are seeking to sell magazines and legal advice find it profitable to distract the government with their silly suggestions.

maureen bateman says:
22 July 2015

Cannot report nuisance calls because cannot obtain number: 1471 produces ‘we do not have the caller’s number’ or an 11 digit number which when rung produces’ the number you have dialled has not been recognised’. Every day at 12 noon I receive a call on my landline – silent for about 10 seconds then a silly disguised voice says ‘Good bye’ and rings off. Number is not recognised. I have blocked all recognised numbers but I am at a loss to know how to deal with this. Any suggestions?

Linda swinnerton says:
10 August 2016

Try blowing a very loud whistle down the phone! It will work if there is actually a live person on the other end (it did for me!) unfortunately not very effective for automated calls. However if all the automated calls were answered with a “no thank you” and then hang up maybe it wouldn’t be so cost effective for the people involved.

I have been bombarded with nuisance calls, windows computer errors from Indian call centres, medical research trying to sell alternative therapies, PPI, double glazing, solar panels, and survey after survey, charities, all and more, hundreds a week for years, all totally ignoring telephone preference service. Last week it was double glazing company (Zenith? probably changed names) I said why are you ringing me yet again when I have said don’t call? Answer because you once bought windows from us and we have a special offer to previous customers. If I said never call again after installing some windows for me over 10 years ago, I meant do not call again every couple of months telling me lies- like my neighbours are impressed with a back door and window you installed- because nobody but me can see the back door or window- stop the lies, leave me alone. This company is in the UK- surely it should be brought to task?

I have had a number of such spoofed nuisance calls to my mobile phone and it is extremely annoying because while I can block each number they use a different one each time they try calling. I was alerted to what they were doing by the voicemail app ‘hellomail’ which seems to be able to detect the ACTUAL phone number behind the spoof. So after receiving several nuisance call with different geographic numbers around Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Shropshire as identified by vodafone but which hellomail identified as originating from the same phone number in Liverpool I knew something was up.

I have not made any report because I did not answer any of them. Not knowing anyone in any of the random places the calls purported to be from I did not answer. But now I wonder if I should. Perhaps the hellomail app provides a useful tool for identifying the culprits behind the spoof numbers.

GrahamF says:
23 July 2015

Why can’t the telecoms companies simply block all spoof numbers? I understand there are legitimate reasons for withholding a number but can see none for giving a false one. The idea of providing an 0800 number for calling back doesn’t hold water – who would want to call back an anonymous caller, and if the call is answered the caller can say the number to call back on.

Carole says:
25 July 2015

I’ve just had a call with an international number shown and ID shown as TX USA. I have relatives in USA so I answered but it was the usual pre-recorded message about trying to reach me urgently because I have a PPI claim. I assume this was a spoofed number – should I report it?

Really really fed up with being told I can claim back PPI or that I’ve been involved in an accident or that my computer is infected.

Jo says:
28 July 2015

I get loads of calls (including messages left on the answerphone) from people saying they have had a missed call from my number. I don’t think ‘spoofing’ uses fake numbers, they use random ones which could belong to anyone. I now have to fend off these calls, which are genuine people and so not strictly nuisance calls. What do I do about these? And how can I find out who is using my number?

Those people wanting to block or ignore international incoming calls are very short-sighted. Many legitimate UK-based callers use non-UK telephone companies for their outgoing calls. For example, I pay €3 per month to a Luxembourg-based company for unlimited calls to fixed lines in 45 countries, including the UK. I can use this service to make outgoing calls from anywhere in the world. I can’t find such a good deal from any UK-based company.

Would those same people block e-mails from mail servers hosted outside the UK? If so, they would block e-mails from UK-based users of Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail etc. The same principle applies, albeit to a lesser extent, to phone calls.

Talking of very short-sighted : the ability to read emails when you want is a considerable difference to responding to telephone calls.

BTW this Luxembourg firm sounds very useful but I would wish to be sure it was not taking advantage of some deceitful tax-status that left other countries Governments less well-off in servicing their debts and providing services.

I am registered with the TPS & have been for approx. 16 yrs.

I have also had my details removed from the electoral roll that companies can purchase.

Today I received a call from a company selling wine who asked to speak to my husband – he died 9 & 1/2 yrs ago – very very distressing.

Why should I have to purchase a call blocker to protect my privacy? Probably many of these companies actually sell these things & by making nuisance calls hope that you will go out & buy one.

Relatively simple solution to spoofing.

Get the telecom operators to compare the Caller ID to that of the originating caller using their call set up software, and reject calls which don’t match. For legitimate reasons, there could be an exceptions list. A similar system is used to reduce spam emails.

Good telecom operators should be doing this already. The others should be forced.

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