/ 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?

Niall says:
19 January 2017

Just had a call come direct through my BT Call Guardian (8500) phones showing it’s number as “0700017”. Answered it, only to find it was yet another call from the scum at “Microsoft support”!!!
So, two issues here :
1) Why did VirginMedia (my line supplier) allow this clearly FAKE number to even call me?
2) Why did BT Call Guardian let it through without having to announce themselves??
Mainly to highlight this to others, but obviously if anyone has any suggested answers….. 🙂

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Niall says:
19 January 2017

Thanks Duncan. I’ll certainly pursue it with Virginmedia. until I lose the will to live, again . So far they’ve done little more than say “It’s probably a computer-generated call, and nothing we can do except record it’s happened (so it may be blocked next time) – please report it to the TPS!” You’re right, this functionality should be included within the phone system (as BT have done recently) but this is more basic than that – it’s not that the scammers have spoofed a valid number – they’ve used a number which could not POSSIBLY have been genuine, and yet VM were happy to connect it! Yet another example of Virginmedia missing the point entirely 🙁
Not sure I understood all you were meaning, though – The caller identity is provided by the network, and then CallGuardian kit applies it’s own logic to it (nothing VM have to do with it from that point). However even if Call Guardian is not directly manufactured by BT, it’s certainly ‘their product’, and they were happy to receive feedback on it when I spoke to their support desk. They, like me, were surprised to hear this had happened once the call got as far as their kit, and were going to pass on to their techies to try to replicate. They also were puzzled by VMs response.

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I have had numerous calls from some insurance firm which displays the are code of my home town despite the company being based elsewhere. Interestingly i was abroad one time this happened. The called ID showed a call coming from 0151 (liverpool) number. I didnt answer but my phone gave me a txt message to say i missed a call from (01382) number which is my home town area code. something about the international nature of the call to a mobile that was abroad seemed to trip up the spoofing.

So far today , just like any other day I have received recorded messages about a replacement boiler for people on benefits. The number is alway one digit less than expected. These numbers today>>>
All meaningless … so how do we find out where they originate from

Hi David, have you reported the numbers at all? You can do so here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/nuisance-calls-and-texts/

Hi Lauren, no but I will do now. I did report the spoof numbers to the appropriate Ofcom page though. I think that service providers should automatically bar incorrect originating codes from being passed through network. Thanks for your advice.

ChrisT says:
7 February 2017

I’d love to do that but I received 8 calls since yesterday, Monday morning. The process is so laborious I’d have to spend a couple of hours reporting them all and I don’t have the time for that…

I get “spoofed number” calls daily with a recorded message “Oil, electric, LPG and gas – don’t miss out on this offer, press 2 to contact an advisor or press 9 to be removed”. There is at least one of these calls on my answering machine every day when I get home. Of course, I DON’T press any buttons having read tales of calls being forwarded to India and other countries etc. It’s from a different number every time which is a fake number having only 10 digits, so nothing can be done about it. It’s just something I’ll have to live with I suppose.

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Thank you for the advice Duncan, I’ll look into that. Just out of interest, which model of call blocker do you have?

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We have just signed up to BT Call Protect because of scam calls – latest version of the old ‘Microsoft’ scam, where they try to convince you that they work, in this case, for BT – THEY DON’T. Ask ’em about OUCs and see what the reaction is !!! Call Protect lets you block Withheld and International numbers, plus other numbers you nominate. These scam calls are from Asia, we think, but occasionally spoof a UK dialling code – Sadly Call Protect does not pick these up and so we are still getting infuriating calls. Now, the scammers won’t get a jot out of us but I do worry about the proverbial little old biddy and that annoys me. This spoofing of UK codes must be stopped.

I’ve set up telephone systems for small businesses…. Basically, the technology is there to “block” numbers. I can’t presume what Virgin or BT run, but why would they have worse, less capable tech hardware than the average small startup?

“Blocking” is perhaps the wrong term; the call needs to come in to identify it (before it reaches the destination) – that means to VM first and not YOU, they ARE handling it at that stage no matter what they say – think about it. You have a VM phone line, so it goes to them first – it just isn’t answered, but it will be logged and it CAN be scrutinised (it’s just extra work, or money, hence why they don’t bother)

I basically protected one business from these calls by blacklisting a whole range of numbers and routing them to… nothing. So it rings out forever; if they called again so what?

And of course, I could retrieve any records on the small chance a genuine number was filtered. Withhelds were the most common. Some people who shouldn’t, actually withhold their number, getting themselves lumped in with scammers, which is another argument a business like VM might use (“Oh, how would we know we aren’t blocking legitimate calls? You’d blame us then!”)

I’ve managed to track certain calls to pay as you go SIM cards from Orange. I reported them to ActionFraud, who… couldn’t take action as the callers were abroad (it wasn’t spelt out further than “unable to pursue this lead”), but did look into it.

Orange refused to own the problem when I called them, though they did confirm the numbers I captured were theirs.

What also happens is.. a call centre can buy a load of SIM Cards and load it into the router to dial off those numbers, via the main telephony system. Orange didn’t care, I assume, as they made their money from topups.

This is also a valid technique for backup in outbound callcentres, but like with any tech, it can be misused. Sadly, it’s “how” you use it, don’t blame the tech!

Rubbish isn’t it? I sincerely recommend Which? contact ALL the big SIM card issuers and ask them why they allow such calls through their SIM cards. (The numbers can be disguised but sometimes a company is too lazy / stupid / forgets etc.)

Which? – if you want, email me and I am happy to give you any findings I have or further explanation. Sometimes I think I’m the only one looking deeply at it with a technical mindset!

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David says:
13 May 2017

What they are doing is illegal, the telephone companies are hiding and protecting them, and it is massively annoying.

This is not how you develop new business by hiding your number.

Do something about it, you say you can send people into space, but you can not find a company who is hiding their original number, hmmm?.

I believe BT has the technology but not the will to find out who is behind the false numbers. The government and GCHQ seems to be able to monitor everyone’s phone calls so why not put that skill to good use in tracing these people? If someone is taking steps to hide their identity, you can be sure they are doing something immoral or illegal and don’t want to get caught. A few more nice big fines, will stop them, and if not, will at least give *me* the satisfaction of knowing they they are hurting.

Can you tell us what you know about BT having the technology? This is at the heart of the problem

I can’t at this moment. I read something quite in depth about it but can’t recall where I saw it. I’m sure a Google search will help you to find the information though

Oakley says:
12 July 2017

In recent days, usually about mid-day, I’ve received calls that my handset shows as “International” but which is using a UK number, in this case a Leeds number. I felt it was suspicious, probably a scam number, and blocked it.

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Graham says:
2 November 2017

I constantly get these call and even take abuse from the idiots trying to sell me stuff or dupe me into giving personal bank info. Why can’t the government stop this by forcing phone companies give REAL info.
It could stop so much damage in one foul swoop.

Do not listen cut off immediately

Kevin says:
15 December 2017

When I get these obvious fake calls I either say I am the estate agent and the renter of the line is dead or say I am waiting an urgent call and will they call in ten minutes I then use BT 1572 which allows me to bar the last calling number which works providing they display a number even a fake one.

Having said that it cannot be beyond the wit of someone in telecommunications to devise a system that will bar a caller displaying a fake number calling to anyone.

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If the person ask for you by name just say not me but I will go and get them than just put the phone down and let them wait when you return a short time later the phone will be dead they will be fed up of waiting and ended the call they are paying not you so you can return to check when you want

I thought I would just let everyone know that I have personally had my own mobile phone number spoofed and I am getting hundreds of people every day ringing me and asking me if I have called them when it is not me it is these scam insurance accident fraud company’s taking my number if anyone has any ideas what I can do as I have gone to the police and the network provider for my phone and action fraud and no one can help me

I you are getting that many calls, the only thing you can do is change your number Claire.

Have you searched for your number online?

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Wjf says:
11 May 2018

Any comment on this thread that does not address the basic issue at hand is irrelevant. How does such a hole in security exist today where the possibity of spoofing telephone numbers is not just executed at will but seems to be an an accepted practice. Disgraceful that our security is not considered. Roll on GDPR and the consequences for lack of action.

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Donna Simpson says:
5 October 2018

I have been receiving a call from a mobile, that when answered links me to a call centre – selling PPI. I have not taken the call any further. I had a missed call today and decided to call the number back (again the same mobile number used the last few times they have called), and it was answered by a general member of the public, having no idea who i was, or why i was calling.

Are these companies now using valid mobile numbers?? Data protection is another story – as i know have this ladies mobile number….

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Donna – As the deadline approaches for PPI claims the compensation claims industry is getting desperate and resorting to illegal measures. Obviously they hoped to hook you with their call. That didn’t work and you called back to the number received which happened to belong to a private citizen whose number had been used by the cold-caller in order to evade detection. Nasty trick, and the perpetrators are utterly reckless as to the potential consequences.

The compensation claim operation might not actually be a scam, because they probably would check whether you were eligible for compensation in the hope of bunging in a claim and walking away with a third of the money. But cold calling is the illegal part which is why they have attempted to hide behind an innocent and unaware third party. This is where technology needs to penetrate the communications system and trace the true origin of any call if required for law-enforcement purposes.

Anyone entitled to miss-sold PPI compensation can make a claim themselves free of charge from any organisation which lent them money and was offering personal protection insurance [e.g. to keep up the repayments during a period out of work].

The writer of the article is in a fantasy world about spoofing software to mimic local codes. I think you’ll find many of these numbers are sold by UK telecoms companies without proper screening, a practice that has been going on for a long time. If the former was true, you would think UK telecoms would be actively devising strategies to keep one step ahead of the scammers, if only to protect their own reputations. They’re not – they are completely indifferent to complaints. I, like many others will block these calls but my concern is for elderly and vulnerable customers who can sometimes be scammed. They need protection with urgent legislation.

The recent fake BT internet support calls that I’ve received seem to be spoofed to fake ‘invalid number’ numbers.

If you check the area codes, many will be small communities where there will likely be many spare numbers. I can get calls from several different numbers from an area before they move onto the next one.

Whether they buy them, work out the spare ones from telephone directories then get them spoofed, who knows? There are plenty of internet sites that provide number spoofing.

I think alfa is closest to the truth about these spoof numbers in that they can be easily bought on the internet where they are referred to as “virtual numbers”. Just Google “can I buy a virtual number in the UK”. The numerous companies listed are purported to be business solutions companies. Numbers can be bought so cheaply, why employ sophisticated software to generate them? Now, no doubt many reputable companies use their services but just read through what they are able to offer. Unregulated, it is a scammers paradise!

Having done some research around this matter, I suspect these so called “spoof numbers” are in fact unlisted numbers. That is to say they are real numbers that these so called “companies” use. They are able to block incoming calls which would explain why most cannot be rung back. Many will not be published anywhere so you can’t look them up to find who owns them. Anyone who is interested might want to read the article on the internet by Michael Wolfe. https://legalbeagle.com/5962968-difference-vs-unpublished-phone-number.html (it is best to cut and paste this address). Don’t worry it’s not a scam!! Although the article is American, much of it pertains to the UK. Note these numbers are sold by telecoms companies! Conspiracy theory? Maybe!

Get several of these per day. We are busy enough that it is a real disruption. One of them actually succeeded scamming my wife for nearly £400, but most of them claim to be either Microsoft (this is actually fraud) or accident help line. We’re trying to slow them down with BT Call Protect, but they just keep re-spoofing their numbers. We recognise the same voices. This is a job for Parliament and the regulators to 1) outlaw spoofed numbers in the UK–actually remove the technology (don’t care about marketer convenience anymore), 2) force foreign networks to properly identify sources calling into the UK and block all calls that don’t.

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I can’t see where Richard has said that UK businesses use cold calling and nuisance calls to promote themselves.

These are illegal activities and generally there is a high level of compliance from inland firms. Commerce is certainly not dependent on such forms of marketing and understands that it can damage reputations. There is no call from the business community to protect this kind of traffic and they would rather see it completely shut down from wherever it emanates.

I can’t recall the Prime Minister ever having made any comment in favour of cold-calling and nuisance calls. I have never heard a representative of the Opposition say they could do anything about it either. The fundamental problem remains that trapping and stopping incoming calls from overseas before you know their content is technically and practically impossible.

The spoofing of numbers occurs outside UK territory and is also out of reach of the long arm of the law.

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I agree that I must have missed your point, Duncan. I wonder why?

Well, if UK businesses are cold-calling UK residents by any means including by spoofing and by routing calls out and back, why are none of the complaints posted on this site referring to UK companies and businesses trying to market their wares? Almost without exception they are about money scams, fake internet problems, and other frauds which I grant you might derive from the UK [in the sense of assembling the names and numbers and writing the scripts] but they are perpetrated from and originate abroad. But are you saying the PM is trying to protect that traffic?

What do the “businesses everywhere” [including in the UK I presume] need spoofing technology for? I cannot think of any legitimate use for such techniques. Are there any details of which UK businesses are doing it?

What I have said cannot be trapped and stopped are incoming calls from overseas before their content is known since that is technically and practically impossible. Only you persist in rejecting that statement and nobody seems to have supported your stance.

I have explained previously how most of the cold-calls and nuisance calls received in the UK from overseas are generated. They are not auto-dialled sales calls but are set up by an agent who has paid to be provided with names, numbers and scripts for the purpose of getting into people’s computers.

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I believe there are a number of issues here, Duncan. You say

“When my 12-year-old was given a smartphone at Christmas there was plenty that concerned me.”

but I’m curious. Who gave the child a smartphone? And you say

“the phone and SIM were brand new and the number had only been given to a few very close friends and family.”

but how do you know for sure what the 12 year-old had done with the number? Children are notoriously trusting and often give out their number to anyone.

I’ve said this many time, in the past, Duncan,; but what your arguments are always short on are facts. Verifiable facts.


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Duncan – I am certainly not under the impression that the government has fixed this problem – far from it. I have commented many times in the relevant Conversations about the lack of enforcement, the weak powers of the regulators, the puny sanctions that have no effect, and the unpaid fines that mock the whole business.

What I am saying is that the government cannot fix the problem. It is out of control. And there is no technology capable of detecting whether or not an incoming call is going to be a nuisance.

The parent said that the number of the child’s smartphone “was in the hands of call centres across the UK with them brazenly attempting to sell life insurance, PPI and accident compensation to a minor.” I don’t know how he or she knew the call centres were in the UK; perhaps they were – call centres can be tricked as well into believing the numbers they have been given are consenting adults. Who knows whether or not the smartphone number has been recycled from a previous holder?

I am sure the ICO’s report on the sheer volume of nuisance calls is entirely correct, but it does not say where they originate, nor whether they can stop them. I deduce from that that they don’t know and that they can’t.. The number of reports of these types of calls to Which? Conversation seems to have fallen off dramatically lately, so perhaps effective action is being taken, or possibly this kind of trickery has reached its natural limit and people have wised up making it unremunerative.

With half the world speaking English it’s any guess where calls are coming from which makes enforcement almost impossible.

What is odd is that there are very few reports to Which? Conversation about nuisance calls to mobile phones [including smart phones]. They nearly all relate to calls to landline numbers and are the usual scams as mentioned in your comment – PPI, false insurance claims, non-existent scrappage schemes for new windows and ‘green’ grants for insulation. They are not calls from known and reputable operators in these industries and they are designed to trick people out of their money by preying on the vulnerable who they think might be gullible and suggestible.

The failings of the TPS scheme are well-known. It can only enforce against member firms and many companies evade the law by various ruses – which is acknowledged in the quote.

Given that hundreds, if not thousands, of reports of nuisance phone calls have been received by Which? from its members and from members of the public it is a great pity that it has not been possible to analyse them by asking people to complete a short questionnaire asking whether the call was on a landline or a mobile, what it was about, whether the caller knew the called party’s name, the date and time, whether it appeared to come from a call centre or not; whether the call appeared to come via a satellite link or not, whether the line went silent prematurely, what reception was like, and what the called party was asked to do. We have no data that might help us understand better the source and nature of the calls being complained about.

A final comment – I feel that parents must be held responsible for allowing young children to have a smart phone connected to the internet. They don’t need such a device when out and about or going to and from school. I accept that they need a tablet or laptop at home but things are easier to control when in the presence of their parents. I know what the reaction to this comment will be – peer pressure etc and other fictitious justifications. The article quoted does not mention who gave the child a smart phone but I have a sneaky feeling that it was given by a grandparent who didn’t have a clue about the risks involved – including the personal safety of the child when in possession of a device costing hundreds of pounds.

In my experience nuisance calls to smartphones are seldom actually cold calls. Most of the ones I’ve been aware of have been user generated, after the user has visited various websites and, not least pre-GDPR, effectively consented to a data share, e.g. “with selected partners”.

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Thanks Duncan I’ve read your post. I’m not sure I’ve fully understood it, but it doesn’t look like anything that I’ll be losing any sleep over.

As I’ve pointed out before, on the ‘net there’s no such thing as a free lunch. All non-amateur web content creators need to earn a living and many do this by means of advertising revenues. Hence, the users of their sites must either consent to that or go elsewhere.

I’ve recently joined Patreon so I can directly fund my favourite video channels. Funding via Patreon removes the need for their creators to rely on advertising commissions from YouTube and thus, at least in a small way, helps to support “free speech” on the ‘net.

I realise that there is no way to determine programatically whether we are going to consider a call a ‘nuisance’, and in principle I also don’t have a problem with VOIP or overseas call centres whoi don’t actually exist here. My problem is when these callers spoof their number making it appear as a UK call, but with no real way to identify them.
I see no reason why networks should not be required to VALIDATE OWNERSHIP of an originating number before connecting the call – ie unless you actually own that number, and it has passed certain criteria (for example it identifies the actual company with full UK contact details) , then it simply won’t get connected. Ultimately the networks knows who “owns” each real phone line/number, and this just needs extended/enforced for dummy numbers. This could all be done ‘on the fly’ at exchanges, and the one actually connecting the call to your handset whould have the responsibility to ensure compliance, whatever the source of the call.
To demonstrate, whilst working for a large national company “Anonymous Caller Rejection” was causing problems for our call centre. I asked our telecom provider to deploy a single originating number on all our outgoing lines, meaning that we could reliably get through to our clients but they number displayed was a Lo-Call number leased for the purpose. If anyone dialled this it a message explained who we were and that we would call back if important. The key point is that we OWNED the number we were ‘pretending’ to be, and that number could be readily tracked back to us.
Any responsible company could do the same, whether UK or overseas, and it should not be difficult to enforce. If you have a business need to pretend to be a UK number, then you must properly identify yourself or the call will be blocked – simples!

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I see some merit in Bill’s suggestion. It would be good to see it trialled somewhere.

I think it’s about time we saw some evidence that legitimate UK businesses are using cold calling and nuisance calls for business purposes. These have been banned and even the PPI compo bandits and the ambulance chasers are now prohibited by law from doing it. unless the person called has ‘opted in’.

I would also like to see the much repeated claim substantiated that the government will not act against these illegal practices because it is supporting UK business. Since when has the business community wanted the government to protect unlawful activity? The opposite is actually the case and reputable businesses want those who trade outside the law to be brought to book.

Every day we continue to see reports here of nuisance calls about BT technical support and about Micrsoft internet cut-offs, but when was the last time we saw a complaint about a legitimate UK business making an unsolicited or nuisance sales call?

In the past I have sometimes received unwanted calls from marketing and sales staff at companies that I already use, for example banks and/or utilities.

However, those calls were all made by real people, so, as part of answering the call, it was easy to complain and make it very clear what would have happened if I’d ever been bothered again.

Still getting PPI and home insulation that although unwanted and unsolicited, could be considered legitimate. There are also the ‘government’ recorded messages.

The lies and lengths PPI are now going to trying to get your business demonstrates that PPI claims need stopping now.

I intercepted such a call on a confused elderly persons phone the other day. The caller was telling the person they would definitely get a refund as they wouldn’t know they had PPI. I have had similar myself.

Bill’s suggestion to stop spoofed UK numbers shouldn’t be too difficult for telecom companies.

PPI Compensation claim calls are a plague. I don’t think I have ever received one myself but I get them through the post with ever more desperate messages as the window of opportunity will soon close. Why it was allowed to remain open so long beats me.

I am no defender of the banks, who started this whole sorry episode, but they are now being systematically milked by claims they cannot disprove to the cost of all their customers and not a huge impact on their shareholders – the ones that had to baled out by the government were already holed below the waterline by other misjudgments and commercial incompetencies.

I know that the opt-in requirement for PPI Compo claim calls has been announced by the government [and claimed as a major campaigning success by Which?], but I do not know whether it has actually been implemented in law to date. Some of the claims parasites are probably skating on thin ice with their deceitful practices but getting away with it. Once it became generally known that the banks did not have a clue whether or not their customers had been miss-sold PPI it was daylight bank robbery – you didn’t even have to blow the bloody doors off! Some claims agents appear to have a law firm as a front and perhaps that gives them a false legitimacy.

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But what you are describing is not a legitimate business practice, yet you are claiming that the government is happy to protect it because it is a feature of ‘UK Open for Business’. It doesn’t make sense.

I say again, legitimate UK businesses are not making cold calls and nuisance calls; fraudsters pretending to be legitimate businesses are doing so, and the more complex their means of diverting the calls through spoofs and filters the more difficult it is to trap and stop them.

I have read what you said in answer to Bill’s suggestion for getting proof of line ownership before connecting incoming calls but feel the references to GCHQ etc are a red herring. Do you think it could actually work? And if so, should we press Ofcom or Openreach or Virgin to try it somewhere? It’s no good saying the security services won’t allow it: they can easily get an Order to release a line they have a proper interest in and want to monitor. It’s not like you to be defeatist in the face of the authorities!

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duncan lucas says: I am one of the most determined people on this earth

How d’you know?

Yes, Duncan, we are not in dispute over what GCHQ can do, but your claim – which your comment now contradicts – that the security services won’t allow any interference with the inland telecom networks because it would hamper their operations. That is patent nonsense.

So as I asked you before – do you think Bill’s idea would work, and if so do you think it would be a good idea to try it out somewhere? The GCHQ angle is a red herring and is just diverting us from the real question which is – is there a viable way of recognising incoming nuisance calls before they have been answered? Bill is the first person here who has come up with a possible solution, but you don’t seem very keen on it.

You know it was GCHQ who cut you off, do you? Probably as good a guess as any but other possibilities come to mind. I thought good spycraft lets conspirators keep going in the hope of netting the big fish.

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Well, apart from you modestly comparing yourself with Jeanne d’Arc, I was wondering how many of the 7.53bn inhabitants of the planet you’d met, so as to arrive at your conclusion, Duncan?

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Ah. So your claim

I am one of the most determined people on this earth

is a professional opinion, Duncan? Remember, Professionals normally use research findings and studies to arrive at their conclusion. I’d be interested to see yours…

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And so we’re back to the original question.

Duncan – perhaps I misinterpreted you, but yesterday you wrote “the UK – don’t –under any circumstances give the British public any POWER over programming of our national network via the digital exchange equipment -only allowed for GCHQ and our ever growing spy security services spying on their own subjects”. Your comment –

I am surprised they had to shut you down, Duncan. They could have just caught the big fish and neutralised them, surely, without taking out an innocent citizen of the UK.

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I’m still curious to know how you can possibly know that you are

“…one of the most determined people on this earth”

Apologies if I am missing some backstory, but could we please focus attention on the actual issue, rather than what seem to be personal issues or pedantry? This is a serious issue, and the contributors to this forum seem to have the potential to actually make some tangible contribution to resolving it, so please don’t let your contributions be diminished by such distractions.

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Hi all. Bill makes a good point – let’s get this one back on topic, please. Thank you.

Thank you, Bill, for your remarks.

Duncan – Please tell us why government legislation is required to enable the operator of a telecom system – BT or whoever – to install in an exchange some apparatus that would check the line of an incoming call to verify its status? That is what I understood to be Bill’s proposal which would seem to be a perfectly harmless and beneficial development. Even if legislation is required, I would not assume it would be impossible to obtain by Ofcom or the relevant government department through the making of an Order under the primary legislation. It happens all the time. An experimental installation could take place at any time without any specific authority to test the technology and perfect a design for manufacture.

I don’t see businesses as having any involvement in the process that Bill has proposed. Any line, or all the lines, in an exchange could be fitted with the necessary recognition device to filter out incoming calls made with spoofed or unauthorised numbers. If a business tried to make calls using such numbers which could not be authenticated by the software then the call would not get through to the number called but the business would still have to pay for the call. I think any such misuse of the telecom system would soon dry up. Businesses are already banned from calling people on the TPS register and from making nuisance calls and cold calls but this would tackle the problem from the other end and be entirely self enforcing. The digital gate would lock in front of anyone who did not have the correct code to open it. With international cooperation it could even be used trap calls coming from overseas.

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I do believe you, Duncan, as I read the Ofcom report when it came out highlighting the number of scam calls. I don’t recall it identifying “UK businesses hiding behind digital walls” but I accept there must be a certain amount of that. The point I would reiterate though is that those are not reputable or even legal business practices and no government will sustain that sort of activity which is detrimental to legitimate businesses that conduct their affairs honestly and in compliance with the law.

I don’t think it would be too difficult to implement Bill’s proposal if it is technically feasible. For that to be proved a test run or experiment under controlled conditions – not on the live network – would be required. The government would not have to be involved in either the experiment or the implementation of a working system so far as I can see. It doesn’t tell telecom service providers how to run their businesses and if their subscribers want to take advantage of a facility which checks the origin and status of incoming phone calls the TSP’s are free to provide it. Once a basic process was devised various additional refinements could be introduced. TSP’s other than BT would also wish to offer it, I am sure, and I did suggest in an earlier comment on this that TalkTalk or Virgin Media might like to pioneer it because their operations are on a much smaller scale than BT/Openreach’s.

I don’t understand on what basis you have come to the conclusion that BT is not liked by the government. I don’t perceive any detrimental treatment of BT as a TSP compared with the others.

If using alternative or virtual numbers were not legitimate Ofcom would not allow it. There can be good reasons why they are used in specific circumstances.

I am not one of those people who sees the devil in every facet of life, but I am sure anyone who spends their time looking for the devil will find him or her somewhere – or something that they think is the devil. In my experience it doesn’t make for a happy and positive life.

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A few interesting facts: GCHQ had no legal mandate of any kind until 1994. The main law concerning its activities is Ripa – a near incomprehensible document, even by the normal standards of statute-speak. Britain has more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world, by a huge margin. Cheshire police in 2011, came up with a number of 1.85m.

In 2011. Add to this the capacity for facial recognition software, which already exists and is improving sharply. Britain is already the most spied on, monitored and surveilled democratic society there has ever been.

Sir David Omand, former head of GCHQ, said that “the real debate we should be having … is about what privacy in a cyber-connected world can realistically mean given the volumes of data we hand over to the private sector in return for our everyday convenience, and the continued need for warranted access for security and law enforcement”.

The Human Rights act Article 8 ensures we have a right to privacy – except a legal briefing on the Human Rights Act lists the instances in which it is legal for the state to breach article 8: “In the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

I feel safer already…

I can’t respond to all your riddles, Duncan: all I can say is that Openreach is owned by BT Group and BT Group is owned by its shareholders which no doubt includes various pension funds and other investment vehicles. How the government could sell off Openreach is beyond me.

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Duncan – That is not a “sombre government inspired view from people with level heads”; it is a contribution from an American commercial investor advisory service [Redburn] to a call for evidence for a “Future Telecom Infrastructure Review” launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS]. As such it is a statement of opinion on the extension of the fibre network and adds nothing but further distraction to the practical business of stopping nuisance calls that we are trying to discuss.

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I am not in a position to judge, Duncan, and I don’t seem to be able to follow your point.

Where did the document say that Ofcom has “hammered BT”? Most of the report was so impenetrable it was lost on me I’m afraid.

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I didn’t say that the document hammered BT, Duncan, but I asked you where it reported that Ofcom had done so. I have to admit that I can’t fully understand what you are saying in either of these posts but two things seem important to me –

1. Ofcom, on behalf of the government, has a legal duty to promote competition and to facilitate the entry of new operators into the telecoms market. BT has a monopoly of telecoms traffic in the UK and an overwhelming proportion of the infrastructure [which had been installed at public expense by the GPO or British Telecom before privatisation]

2. Ofcom cannot instruct an independent private company what to do or how much infrastructure to provide, but it has the right under monopolies legislation to moderate the actions of a monopoly service provider in order to create an equitable trading basis for new entrants and minority suppliers.

To me that seems to be a fair basis and I have not read any complaints from BT itself that it is being “hammered” or unfairly treated. It is a multi-billion pound global corporation and, unlike the way some other monopolies have been dealt with over the years, has not had to transfer any assets to other companies or hand over a large slice of its customer base en bloc. It merely has to allow other telecom service providers to have installations in BT exchanges and the use of its ducts [which are actually part of the national telecoms infrastructure].

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duncan lucas says: Today 07:03

What I think you have missed John is OFCOM isn’t really “independent ” it obeys government dogma therefore its the “Enforcer ” of government policy ..

But OFCOM is a political body in the sense that it regulates the communications infrastructure in the UK in response to whatever regulations and laws Parliament passes. Parliament, being democratically elected, represents the people, so OFCOM, far from being an “Enforcer” and subservient to “government dogma” (whatever you mean by that) is actually the people’s guardian of the nation’s communications infrastructure.

Now, there may well be a Right or Left inclination to exactly how BT is deal with, but that’s how democracy works. The current government (for as long as it lasts) is a right wing group.

BT and Openreach needed to be split, since the evidence that “BT have been accused of abusing their Openreach monopoly, which generated almost 35% of operating profits in 2016, particularly by underinvesting in the UK’s broadband infrastructure, charging high prices and providing poor customer service” has been both overwhelming and consistent.

Speaking to some Openreach guys on poles a mile from our place they said more or less the same, and added that there was no financial incentive to cable rural areas for BT.

I agree with you, Duncan, that Ofcom is a government-appointed regulator established by act of Parliament, so it cannot be independent in the full sense of the word, but the government does not direct or control Ofcom except at arms length through changing its terms of reference or its chief executive, for example.

I am also aware that neither Ofcom nor the government can force BT/Openreach to install fibre where it would not be profitable to do so. If other companies won’t do it either than the government will have to fund it – and I expect in the long run it will.

The point is that BT/Openreach does not have to seek a single extra subscriber since it has such a massive customer base already which gives it a monopoly position. It can sit on its hands and do nothing with the infrastructure if it likes and carry on building up its entertainment and sports channels for customers already connected. I can see no circumstances whereby BT needs to force itself to sell off Openreach, but if the right offer comes along – who knows?