/ Health, Technology

More than a nuisance: the serious side of nuisance calls

Man on the street

You might think nuisance calls are just a passing annoyance. But, for many, unsolicited phone calls are more than just a nuisance. We’ve heard form vulnerable people who find these calls distressing and intimidating.

I want you to imagine that you’re at home on your own. Now, imagine that you’re worried about something, perhaps you’re unwell and you’re waiting for the hospital to call. Many have shared such stories here on Which? Conversation as part of our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign.

There’s a serious side to nuisance calls that’s making life a lot harder for people. Here are just some of the thoughts you’ve shared.

‘At one point she refused to answer the phone at all’

Norie was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. This required him to sit by the phone waiting for calls from three different hospitals so that arrangements could be made for radiation therapy. I’ll leave it to Norie to tell you what happens next:

‘Can you imagine the distress caused, when nerves on edge, my wife and I would answer the phone to find some twit wittering on about PPI compensation, solar energy panels, loft insulation grants. I wish I’d kept a log, but was too distraught to do so at the time. The stress and untold harm that did to my body, whilst carrying the dreaded disease, is immeasurable.’

Norie is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).

We also heard from Penny who told us about her 94-year-old mother. Every time the phone rings, Penny’s mother has to switch off the TV to get up to answer the phone. Not only is this physically difficult for her, when she does answer the phone she finds the calls intimidating:

‘These calls are often about computers or debt services. She finds this quite scary and at one point refused to answer the phone at all, which worried us as we did not know if she was unwell.

‘Now when we phone her we let the phone ring twice, put the phone down then call again. This alerts her to the fact that one of her family is trying to speak to her. But we should not have to do this.’

Penny’s mother is registered with the TPS.

‘These calls really are a harassment’

Which? Conversation has received so many of these stories. Keith’s wife was diagnosed with MS 28 years ago and, now 77, she’s confined to a wheelchair. When she’s alone in the house and she answers the phone to a silent caller, she becomes distressed:

‘All that effort which she often has to spend just getting from where she is to the telephone, only to find that there is no one to speak to.’

Again, this couple is registered with the TPS.

R. Thomas suffers from Parkinson’s disease and also has a respiratory disease requiring constant oxygen:

‘The problem is that, as I need and often receive calls pertaining to my care and activities, I just cannot ignore the phone when it “rings”.

‘They are nearly always calls re PPI or loan insurance. I can receive up to 15 to 20 calls a day. I really am fed up, surely there must be a way that these calls can be stopped or the perpetrators prosecuted because they really are a harassment. If only I was well enough I would be able to pursue the problem actively but I’m powerless. I support any action that you are able to take to effect and remove this blight on my time and health.’

So on behalf of everyone here and the many, many others who have told us that there is a much more serious side of nuisance calls, we’re listening.

[UPDATE 10/06/2013] – We’re now calling on the government to take action on nuisance calls and texts amid our latest research which reveals the scale of the problem.

We gave regulators 12 weeks to form a joint taskforce to stop unwanted calls and texts. Time’s up. While there has been some progress and coordinated action, there needs to be a new tougher approach, led by the government. You can help by pledging your support for our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign here.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

I feel very angry about the amount of nuisance calls my 91 year old father receives. He is severely disabled and is on oxygen 24 hours a day.
It’s a disgrace that vulnerable people should have to put up with this type of harassment all the time.

You didn’t mention whether or not your father is registered on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Some might criticise it and suggest it is ineffective, but that’s not entirely true or fair. Many companies operate within the guidelines set by the Direct Marketing Association and OFCOM and do in fact screen their lists prior to making calls.

The ‘call problem’ in this country is rather like any other problem…there will always be an element that does not care for the rules, but we need to be careful that in the pursuit of these few, we don’t damage the operations of the many legitimate companies out there that operate within the set guidelines.

If your father is not registered on the TPS you can register him here: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html

S walker says:
25 July 2013

Thank you
My father has been on TPS for 2 years and it doesn’t seem to have made much difference.

TPS Services

I am registered with TPS and maybe I am one of the few who believes the service works. Unfortunately, not all companies abide by the rules, so it is hardly surprising that TPS has such a poor reputation.

The only solution is to BAN ALL MARKETING CALLS except where people have opted-in to receive them. I would like to be able to go to a website and pick those companies/products that I would be happy to receive information offers from. I just don’t want to receive the majority of these calls.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

That is a great idea!

Always makes me smile when people say that. What you are referring to is the holy grail of marketing. Every company wants it, truth is consumers won’t co-operate.

If you ban all marketing, that might sound like an ideal idea, but you have to be careful what you wish for. Let’s be honest, we’re talking telephone calls and soon for sure, but who really wants adverts on TV or to pay money for magazines that have over 60% of the space taken up with adverts or online TV that forces you to watch adverts. The point is, rather like so called email ‘spam’. If you eliminated the ‘real’ culprits, what is left is workable. If you take it away entirely, you do genuinely affect the majority operating compliantly.

It’s no win situation I appreciate. We (TPS Services) simply try to encourage companies to screen their data to prevent this kind of issue. If everyone ‘did their bit’ we’d be ok.

Foreign companies are a nightmare though, I think we can all agree that.

Why not make it illegal to withhold or spoof the number your dialling from. 90% of the nuisance calls I get have no return number and are silent, its impossible to report those, If I had a number I could report them.

And why not give the end user the ability to enter a code during or after a call to flag up the call as a nuisance. And make the phone operators earn their money for once.

TPS Services

I know exactly what I wish for. 🙂

Incidentally, I don’t believe that I have ever bought anything as a result of a phone call from any company where I am not a current customer. If I get a call from a company that I have dealt with in the past (insurance companies seem fond of doing this) they get told that they must remove my name from their database and if I receive another call they will be blacklisted and not considered in future. RIAS and e.on have had this warning and I am pleased to report that neither has pestered me again. Direct marketing is a waste of time as far as I’m concerned, and I am concerned because it is my time that is being wasted.

Next time I renew my car insurance and breakdown cover, I would be happy to tick a box and receive calls about these topics, and de-register my interest as soon as I have arranged cover. I do prefer to speak to people about insurance rather than just get quotations online.

My solution to TV adverts is not to watch commercial TV. On the rare occasions that I watch it online, I just switch windows while the adverts are on. Spam I can cope with because it does not require immediate attention and there are ways of minimising it.

One thing that I don’t get is that if I break a law, I’ll get done no warnings, slap on the wrist etc. So why do companies get soooo many attempts and are allowed to do this for years.

Trading Standards tweeted this earlier “Bogus telephone calls from ”

Googling the number they quote whocallsme shows they’ve been doing this since at least Dec last year. It needs to be alot easier to report calls and action must be taken alot sooner.

Glynnis Newboult says:
25 July 2013

In reply to S Walker, you have my deepest sympathy. My elderly mother was receiving many calls, and some asking for personal information. I arranged for the answering machine to be left on so that genuine callers will leave a message and telephone number in order for her to get back to them, while the cold callers, etc, hang up. It also gave me comfort knowing she would not need to pick up the phone unnecessarily, and we could go through them in the afternoon or evening when I returned home from running errands for her. At one point I had to inform the police, who did sort some of them out. She now has a machine attached to her telephone which blocks certain calls, and she is left in relative peace and security in her own home, and I feel happy leaving her to run errands. These machines only cost around £40, which is a small price for pay for mum’s security, and her machine provides safety as should a call get through it can be blocked before putting down the receiver – that company or nuisance caller won’t get through again.
I hope you are able to provide your father with something like this, and that you are also able to get peace of mind. Best wishes.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

Many thanks for your support. This morning someone rang my father and asked to speak to my mother regarding selling her a computer. She died 6 years ago! Needless to say my father was very upset. I had only left him 10 minutes before or I would have taken the call. I would probably been very rude to the caller ( not that it seems to make much difference as they don’t appear to care!)

Glynnis Newboult says:
25 July 2013

Mum used to get quite a few of those and it’s very distressing, so I’m sorry to hear that. If you can get one of the call blocker machines it would be well worth it. They already have about 200 or so numbers locked in. These numbers are known offenders, so you just may see a great reduction in these calls. Anyway, best wishes to both you and your father.

S walker says:
25 July 2013

Thank you I will definitely look into one of those call block machines.

Hello everyone, thanks for all your comments. We’ve just launched a complaints tool which will talk you through the process of making an official complaint about nuisance calls and texts, pointing you towards the right regulator.

If more of us complain, not only will the regulators have the information they need to take action, it will send a clear message that more needs to be done to stop this menace. Give it a go: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/nuisance-calls-and-texts/

You can also join our latest debate about nuisance calls and find out how the government is actually starting to listen to our calls, and may soon change the rules, here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/complain-nuisance-calls-texts-complaints-ofcom-ico-tps/

Andy Cooke says:
3 September 2013

To be honest I find the TPS on the whole is working very well. As soon as I get an unwanted call, even from overseas representing British companies, I let them tell me who they are and what they want. I then ask them are they aware my number is registered with TPS? This often has the effect of stopping them in their tracks. They apologise, politely, and having said they’ll remove my details wish me a good day, and we part amicably. You do get the odd smart alec who tries to tell you the TPS registration only lasts 12 months, or ask have I re-registered even incredibly that it “doesn’t apply to telemarketing”. These callers ALWAYS get reported using the easy to navigate Which? reporting tool. Once the international calls are sorted and TPS get more bite the better; and I think we’re on the way! Well done Which? well done all!!

Graham says:
11 September 2013

I’m a pensioner and no longer fast on my feet, and to takes time to check who is calling. It really is most distressing and made worse by the fact that sometimes only ‘international” shows on the display and with family overseas, I feel obliged to answer. It really is stealing my time as well as being a downright nuisance.

I registered with TPS, only family and close have my number (I never give it out to any other source) yet, I still get these calls. In desperation I changed my long held phone number I had with BT for another one along with all the hassle that entailed and guess what, the very next day I had a call from some Muppet in Mumbai or wherever asking for my wife by her first name, so you tell me BT did not pass or sell on my number!

I suspect BT did neither. However, were BT are at fault is moving their call centres to India, where its not unknown for unpaid staff to siphon off personal details from their work databases and sell it to whoever. So ultimately BT are at fault.

Mrs buchanan says:
10 October 2013

My landline is always unplugged now because of these calls always sales,people who can’t speak English and you can’t understand a word they are saying I have been told to F off when I refused their products three times I was rec up to fifteen calls a day now my family know to get me on my mobile kind of defeats the purpose of paying for a landline of course the greedy telephone companies know we need a landline to rec our Internet connection another thing the government should take a look at .