/ Home & Energy, Technology

Time to give cold callers the cold shoulder

Person making phone call

At best an invasive annoyance, at worst intimidating and threatening. Unwanted sales and marketing ‘cold’ calls can be enough to drive anyone to despair.

The other day, I was just settling down to my dinner and my landline rang. It was a recorded message from a ‘government organisation’ telling me the great news that they could clear all my debt within a year.

Fantastic! Apart from the fact that: 1) Other than my mortgage (and the occasional use of my overdraft), I’m in the fortunate position of having no debt; and 2) There was a high chance I had just been targeted by one of a number of cold call scams doing the rounds, which prey on peoples’ insecurities in a bid to con them out of their hard-earned cash.

Needless to say, I hung up.

Big household names among most frequent cold callers

It’s not just scammers that interrupt our daily lives at inconvenient times, though – big businesses use it as a marketing tactic too. According to a two-week diary kept by 737 Which? members, British Gas, BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Homeserve, EDF and Eon were among companies calling most often.

I should add that by ‘cold calling’ I include sales and marketing calls from companies I’m already a customer of, which might partially explain why companies with a big customer base are often the biggest ‘cold-callers’.

75% want cold calls banned

So are cold calls becoming the nation’s worst nightmare? They’re certainly among the most common – our recent investigation showed two thirds of you are likely to have received at least one cold call recently.

We asked more than 2,000 people about their recent cold call experiences, and found they’d received an average of six to seven calls a month. What’s more, one in four people have felt intimated by cold calls, and one in five has felt pressured by a cold-caller to buy something.

Clearly, some people buy products or services off the back of a cold call, otherwise why would companies bother? But they must be in a small minority. These stats reflect badly on many companies responsible for cold calling, especially since there are rules in place to prevent unfair or aggressive sales tactics.

How to cut cold calls

I’m registered with the Telephone Preference Service for both my mobile and landline, which automatically opts me out of many companies calling me for sales and marketing.

There are other things you can do to avoid cold calling too. I avoid giving my number out where possible, and always ask not to be added to sales and marketing lists. If you ask a company not to call you for sales and marketing purposes, they’re not allowed to do so – even if you’re already a customer.

My evasive manoeuvres seem to have done the trick with many cold calls, as I don’t remember the last time I received a cold-call that I couldn’t identify as a likely criminal scam.

Sadly, it’s unlikely that criminals will ever respect cold calling regulation so I can look forward to the odd scam-call for the foreseeable future – my best hope is to be out when they call.


I’ve also registered with TPS and the numbers of callers plummeted – It’s been years since I’ve been troubled – Before they were a menace. I also have my phone on permanent answer phone – all friends know this and will announce their name or leave a message – so now I don’t have cold callers on the phone..

Door cold callers are met by a large “beware of the dogs” sign – and if they ignore it – they are met by three *very” large dogs – they go 🙂

Great about your door sign! I think I’ll put a ‘Beware of the Owner’ sign, as I have no dogs! ;-D

I’d registered my mobile and this has just prompted me to register my new landline and my partner’s mobile with TPS, so thanks.

Did get a cold call SMS today. Have Google’d and can’t find out who the number belongs to. But it’s definitely a cold call!

‘Wipe off your debts!:Begin your application today and start to wipe off debt with a New Government Settlement Order from April 2010, reply YES to find out more’

Definitely a scam. *sigh*

Registered with the TPS a number of years ago and was better for a while but these days the cold calls we get are from overseas and they just do not care about opted out – if you complain to them or mention TPS they just hang up.

Recently had the Indian windows help calls where they show you the event log in windows and try to get access to your PC and cash from you for fixes.

I’m an IT manager and if not bust string them along for a while while browsing the web to waste their time and stop them calling others.

OFCOM really need to get their act together about this if they don’t want the government to can them.

Carl Mahler says:
26 August 2010

Lombear ‘stringing’ a caller along does not bother them. This actually increases their ‘talk time’ on the telephone. Achieving a set ‘talk time’ is actually one of the caller’s targets. Hang up if you’re not interested. What we could do is ban telephone marketing altogether. I am sure there a jobs a plenty in our booming economy to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who will be made redundant.

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

right i dont mean to be harsh but TPS shouldve told you that you need to register with them every 6 months, your lucky you got a few years tbh.
your clearly making the fault that your being aggressive over the phone. you need to put yourself in there shoes. they have clearly had sooo many p****d off people going on at them since the first call they made. your no different so why should they treat you any? be nice, but lie and say you rent the house. i promise if you keep saying that the calls will stop x

Which has failed to mention that TPS now expires after 5 years and you need to reregister!! MPS might be the same.

I would also like to see a rule that if you are called they must tell you where they got your number from as its always possible that a company you use has sold their mailing list on.

Sue Shaw says:
24 August 2010

I joined the TPS in November 2005 but they have never mentioned about an expiry date. Is this 5 year expiry accurate and do I need to re-register!! Sales calls have dropped off since I registered but I have at least 2 nuisance calls a week. I now never answer the phone unless the caller leaves a message as it has become very intrusive. The only problem I’ve had with this is that I missed an appointment that the hospital were trying to make for me.

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

what your BFF forgot is that its not a matter of years you need to renew with TPs its a matter of 6 months! i cant believe you guy are struggling so badly to get rid of them. its not that hard. read my LONG message below x

David says:
24 August 2010

I’m signed up with TPS but still get loads of “marketing” calls. Virgin tell me that registration with TPS lapses every 6 months!
I haven’t changed my number but I re-registered anyway. No message came up saying I was already registered, so does it lapse or not?

I don’t mind the odd call occasionally. I appreciate the skills of a good salesman!

G Pike says:
24 August 2010

Cold callers don’t bother me. Why? Well, I allow the answer machine to kick in after a certain number of rings, and that is it. They will not leave a message. However, if friends and family call, they would normally either leave a message, or I pick up the phone. They are aware of why we do not answer right away. It has work for us for quite a few years. You can always do 1471 to check a number if you want, likewise, make a note of the number, and if you have a PC, put the number into Google. It is interesting to see who is doing all the pestering!!!!
Recently a cold caller did leave a message. A foreign speaking person from a company called “Reclaim It” or something like that. A quick check on the internet revealed quite a few people had been called by this dubious “company”. So my answer is, use an answering machine. Oh and never give your name and address.

I always mention to any business I deal with – that I have my phone on permanent answer phone if they have a need to phone me.

So far – since registering with TPS – now the only phone calls I get are from friends or those businesses. Cold callers have gone..

pickle says:
25 August 2010

I registered with TPS ages ago. At first there were few cold calls. Now I still get some. I have caller display and can see if the callers number seems genuine or unavailable. A month ago I had a cold call and bellowed down the phone GO AWAY – and have had none since!

I was one of the 737 Which? Online Panel members who kept a log of cold calls over a two week period recently. I cannot now recall the detailed statistics but it probably averaged at about one per weekday and hardly any at weekends. This was significantly fewer than I had presumed would be the case – showing just how annoying and intrusive these calls are. Of course, they pale into insignificance beside the enormous amount of junk that comes through the e-mail system – despite all the claimed “sophisticated filtering” that the ISP provides; like most of the junk mails on the internet, most of the cold calls on the landline seem to come from overseas and have the number withheld so using TPS didn’t seem worthwhile as it might screen out some calls I actually would like to receive. Using the answering machine as much as possible is probably the best technique to avoid cold calls, and letting the ones that do get through gabble into open space gives a compensatory degree of satisfaction. I am always amazed at cold callers who think you know how much you pay for your telephones or electricity! – I probably spend more on household cleaners and washing products over the year but I don’t carry that number around in my head. On the question of … hold on, the phone’s ringing, must answer it …

David HIckson says:
26 August 2010

As a “veteran campaigner against Silent Calls”, I have some points to correct and add.

Contrary to what is said in the main article, Ofcom is currently proposing to FURTHER WEAKEN its policy on Silent Calls. At one time Ofcom regarded all calls that resulted in Silence as unacceptable. It currently regards them as acceptable, so long as a proportionately large number of calls that result in someone speaking are made on the same day. It now proposes to formally allow any caller to make one Silent Call per day to any person, regardless of the total number of such calls made or received.

An example of how Ofcom deals with this issue is seen by its declaration that it received 100,000 complaints about Silent Calls, with the caller identified, in 2009, but has not used its statutory powers against anyone since October 2008. I comment at length about this in my “SCVictim” blog.

Registration with the Telephone Preference Service (which never expires) does not provide any formal protection against Silent Calls. It only covers calls with a “marketing purpose”; if nobody speaks, then there is no evidence of the purpose of the call. You cannot “opt out” from receiving Silent Calls, because a simple reading of the relevant regulations shows that nobody should be receiving them anyway. Ofcom chooses not to apply the law, nor to adhere to the demand from parliament that, “we expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls.”

Recorded message calls (with a marketing purpose) are not covered by the Telephone Preference Service for the same reason. ALL such calls represent a breach of the relevant regulations, which are enforced by the Office of the Information Commissioner (unless one has given explicit consent).

I can be contacted via my blog at scvictim.blogspot.com.

Derek says:
26 August 2010

While I agree with the comment here that the TPS is a useful way to reduce calls it certainly does not prevent less reputable businesses cold calling individuals. I am in a slightly unusual position in this debate as a business owner who has received complaints from the TPS about calls made to members of the public (at home and work) and this causes us a concern. The calls purporting to be from my company (giving our name and some very specific registration information) are in fact made from an overseas call centre and cannot apparently be blocked by UK telecoms companies.

This kind of action is clearly unlikely to be carried out by reputable companies, but we understand that the calls using our company name are in some instances (where the callers are not simply rude and abusive) passed back to the UK and are part of a marketing drive for at least one UK company.

This is not only a problem for consumers, but also a problem for business.

Jennifer says:
26 August 2010

I was staying at my friends’ house this spring. They’d only been living there a few weeks and while they were away calls started coming from Santander, asking for someone whose name was not familiar – presumably a former resident.

Santander’s call centre phoned every day, sometimes twice a day, asking for the person who didn’t live there.

The operators treated me with a mixture of hostility and suspicion when I repeatedly told them he didn’t live there and that they must stop calling. I was told the ONLY WAY I could stop the phone calls coming was by giving them the last three digits of the phone number. I never had this to hand, because I always phone my friends on their mobiles. I know I could have found out what number it was, but WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO?

The whole system was automated, so no matter what you said to the operators, they could not remove you. In the end, I took to asking the operator if they could hold on for a second and walked away from the phone, just to waste as much time as possible.

Eventually my friends came back and the calls kept coming. My friend was so frustrated she swore at one of the call centre workers, and got the old “I’m going to have to ask you not to speak to me like that”.

Can you imagine what this has made us think of Santander? What a ridiculous policy. Not only is it a disgusting way to behave, treating completely innocent people suspiciously and harrassing them in their own home, but also very ineffective if they are chasing up some debt.

As presumably the previous resident had given Santander his phone number, I’m not sure that this would be covered by the TPS. What can be done to stop this practise?


Apologies. It was MPS not TPS.

But why should they not do it ‘for life’ then. After all its the same company in effect

Paul Felton-McEldon says:
26 August 2010

Aswell as the TPS all companies have a moral obligation ( I am not sure if is a statutory obligation ) to add consumers to there own in house DNC ( Do not call ) list if the respondent asks them too.

Telemarketing is an effective route to market if managed and dealt with properly. Many consumers receive calls from Insurance companies when, for instance, their car insurance is due for renewal. A lot of people do not know when this is up for renewal and just apathetically allow their policy to renew itself, with any price increase and not always be aware of cost saving offers that could be available to them, telemarketing in this instance can be of a huge benefit.

Telemarketing is not necessarily the issue here, I think the issue is the quality of the calls and how they are managed. A lot of good companies profile the data they call to ensure they are only calling people for whom their product/service is relevant. On the flip side, less professional companies will call anyone and everyone in a scatter gun approach with out any regard for consumer protection or privacy.

Whilst the TPS in essence is a good idea, it also restrictive to the genuine companies out there who might not have the budgets to advertise on the TV or pay to go to the top of google but have a genuinley useful product or service to sell, what other route to market can they use to generate business?

One last point, The UK outbound telemarketing industry directly employs app 160,000 people in the uk and indirectly ( manufacturers, back office etc ) app 500,000. we are in the throws of a recession and should be embracing the genuine companies who have good corporate practice and use this medium to sell there products. The ICO, OFCOM and the telephony companies should work together to weed out the unsavoury and allow the good comapnies to offer consumers things that are of value to them.

Robert Higgins says:
26 August 2010

I havn’t been pestered by unwanted calls for a while but there is a ” naughty ” way of getting some slight revenge if you feel up to it. What I do is tell them that my wife deals with what ever issue it is that they are calling about and offer to get her. Then all you do is put the reciever on its side by the phone and turn the telly or radio up so the caller can hear background noise. Then just sit back and relax and wait for them to hang up. It can be quite amusing listening to them especially the grumpy ones.

Here’s a horrid story: A student friend of mine was working in a cold calling centre. An angry “customer” she called reacted badly to having his dinner interrupted and really ripped into her. She couldn’t take it and ended up in tears. The guy next to her in the call centre was a real pro. He asked what happened and called Mr Angry back, and confronted him with how upset he’d made this young woman. Mr Angry was caught on the back foot. The guy actually held the phone up to my crying friend so Mr Angry could hear her sobbing. In the end, Mr Angry was shamed into agreeing to have a kitchen designer visit.

Ian Preece says:
1 March 2011

You’re right that is a horrid story.
Not only was the guy rudely interupted, he was also subjected to manipulation from the “real pro”. Then the harrasment continues as far as him agreeing to meeting a salesperson who he has no intention of buying anything from. What an unbelievable waste of everyone’s time. A fail on all accounts.

FrankO says:
15 September 2011

Absolute disgrace that the “real pro” called back. If people who take on jobs making unwanted pestering calls to private individuals don’t expect to be heavily abused from time to time they should find a proper job!

Here’s a horrid story: A student friend of mine was working in a cold calling centre. An angry “customer” she called reacted badly to having his dinner interrupted and really ripped into her. She couldn’t take it and ended up in tears. The guy next to her in the call centre was a real pro. He asked what happened and called Mr Angry back, and confronted him with how upset he’d made this young woman. Mr Angry was caught on the back foot. The guy actually held the phone up to my crying friend so Mr Angry could hear her sobbing. In the end, Mr Angry was shamed into agreeing to have a kitchen designer visit.

Ian Preece says:
1 March 2011

You’re right that is a horrid story.
Not only was the guy rudely interupted, he was also subjected to manipulation from the “real pro”. Then the harrasment continues as far as him agreeing to meeting a salesperson who he has no intention of buying anything from. What an unbelievable waste of everyone’s time. A fail on all accounts.

Becky says:
28 August 2010

Over the past few weeks we’ve received some 10 calls from a market research company saying that they were undertaking a survey on behalf of a government department. Market Research is not covered by the TPS, with which we are registered.
Despite telling the company that we did not wish to participate, and not to call us again, they continued to do so, always around meal times. Having told them firmly one evening to remove us from their call list, they called again the next day.
In desperation, I made separate enquiries via the association of which they are a member, telephoned a senior member of staff at their office asking for our telephone number to be removed, and requested our telephone provider to block future calls from them.
Surely there comes a point when behaviour such as theirs becomes a criminal offence.

Rod McIntyre says:
31 August 2010

I am writing to you concerning my mother-in-law. My reason for writing is that I am extremely concerned that Homeserve has mis-sold her insurance for plumbing and drainage. I am also very disturbed by the amount of anxiety and stress this has caused her.

Mrs Hobden is 84 years of age and has difficulty thinking clearly and dealing with day to day issues. She is extremely absent minded and is unable to understand anything about such matters as plumbing insurance.

As her carers, my wife and I deal with everything for her. About two weeks ago we called in to find her quite distressed because someone had been trying to sell her something, but she did not know what it was and felt extremely worried that she had bought something which she did not need.

I dialled 1471 and obtained the caller’s number which turned out to be Homeserve. When I called the number I was told that no policy had been sold into the address and no details of a Mrs Hobden were on the system. I was , therefore, somewhat surprised to find that a contract has been put in place and a direct debit set up for her.

She has been paying insurance for drains and plumbing for several years and therefore has no possible need for this cover.

My grounds for complaint are as follows;

1. The person who sold the policy must have known Mrs Hobden was very old and vulnerable, yet that person continued with the sale.

2. When I rang to reassure her that nothing had been sold to her I was told that that was the case and no contract was in place.

3. All Mrs Hobden’s bank details have been obtained and a direct debit set up for payment for Homeserve .Had we not intervened this lady. who has very little money, would have been out of pocket.

4. Mrs Hobden has suffered a great deal of distress. She has lost her self confidence and is afraid to answer the phone.

We will stop the payments and have made a complaint via e-mail and await a response.
The Telephone preference service has been contacted but she remains vulnerable as not all calls will be intercepted.

The whole busines has been very distressing and made us very angry.

Surely more can be done!

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

its law that nothing can be sold to a 70+ without VERY clear agreament that they will proceed with the payment, because a. they need it. or b. they want it cause they loaded basicly.
it is within your rights to take in to court and i expect you will win!
and it isnt but should be within your right to slap that man in the face!