/ 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.

Timothy Salter says:
11 September 2010

I have read your article on cold calling in the September issue of Which. Ex directory numbers do not cut out cold calling. I often stay in a house in Devon which has an ex directory number. I am constantly pestered by cold calling there. When I have told cold callers that the number is ex directory, they have told me that their computers generate all the numbers possible for that dialing area, and it calls them all whether they are ex directory or not.

Cold calling is a real problem where I live for the rest of the year, and especially now that I am retired. I am a member of the TPS, and while it worked at the start, it seems to make no difference now.

A recent scam call which I have received said that the Government rules on loan protection had changed. If I had a loan with loan protection press 1; if I had a loan without loan protection press 2; and if I wished to be removed from their lists press 9. I cut the call off without pressing any of these numbers.

barbie65 says:
28 January 2011

i have a sticker on my front door which says WE DO NOT BUY OR SELL AT THIS DOOR
i have T.P.S and am EX DIRECTORY, also i have MAIL PRIVACY
i got the sticker from the council t.p.s from BT and mail privacy from the royal mail service
i have never had a problem with cold sellers because its the law that they cannot hassle me while i display all of this.

Steve B says:
4 February 2011

I took part in the Which? survey last year but at the time we had only a few cold calls to report. However over the last few weeks the number has risen dramatically to sometimes two or three a day. We have been registered with the TPS for many years and have found it to be very effective in blocking sales calls from within the UK. What it doesn’t do of course is to block international calls so it is these that we receive usually on the pretence of doing a ‘survey’. Sometimes we get a recorded ‘congratulations!’ so that is the signal to put the ‘phone down immediately. We do have caller ID but we can’t get international calls blocked as we have family locally who use the 18185 prefix which is based in Switzerland, also we had a call the other day from a ‘Number Withheld’ which was actually from a charity we support. Most of these calls seem to be from the Far East judging by the accents and line quality; they often ask for me or my wife by name which is a bit worrying. I would like to ask them to remove our number from their database but I don’t think they could cope with that. Finally, what really makes me angry about these calls, besides their nuisance value, is that these people have entered my home uninvited and invaded my privacy.

TPS seems do do fairly well in controlling the number of UK-based calls but some days I feel I should take the plunge and go ex-directory. I would like to know whether this will eliminate international calls.

Maybe a high profile prosecution by the Information Commissioner ( or whatever there latest title is) would make some of the UK based cold-callers think twice before ignoring the TPS list !

We’ve subscribed to TPS for years and haven’t had any cold calls until fairly recently. Now we get anything up to half a dozen silent calls per day. Sometimes they aren’t silent and when they speak they are often from abroad; from accents I would say Indian sub-continent. Even when the numbeer is given, the accents are the same. Generally, they start the conversation by saying that they want to do a survey. Both my wife and myself end the conversation abruptly (and usually pretty angrily).

What I don’t understand is why these companies think that this will work. I sure the TPS subscriber lists must be available, even to companies operating offshore. If they are outside of the country, they presumably don’t have to abide by the law regarding the TPS, but surely it’s a waste of their time and money calling anyone who is on the list?

My wife is getting really annoyed now; she’s the one who gets most of the calls, because she’s home more than I am. We would like to just ignore anything with a number withheld or with international showing, but we can’t afford to because there are several organisations that call us legitimately, but who withhold their number or call from abroad.

The only solution I can think of is to enable the answer-phone and only respond to calls that we recognise. However, as someone else said; we are being inconvenienced because these companies, who don’t have an ounce of integrity, are annoying us in the hope of conning someone into their scams.

C Packer says:
22 July 2011

We have been registered with TPS for years but recently cold calls from overseas – surveys, computer checking scams etc have resulted in at least three calls a day. All dealt with by answerphone. But now – horrors- we have received a cold silent call at 3 am. It was impossible to get back to sleep as night time calls usually mean a dire family emergency or bad news. Result – long laid plans for the next day had to be abandoned as we were exhausted from lack of sleep and the tension of wondering if it would happen again.The next cold caller during the day received a scream of rage from me. This situation is crazy. What sort of a feeble country are we that we can’t tackle this? It’s atrocious during the day but if they start ringing through the night…………

FrankO says:
15 September 2011

The TPS seems to be ineffective for callers who have obtained your name and phone number, presumably from a firm where you’ve made an on-line purchase. My wife and I face a growing number of such calls daily. Machines that block cold calls all cost money: but why should anyone have to pay not to receive these impertinent intrusions? I always try to make cold callers feel bad (tell them my wife has just died or whatever) but most of them have skins like rhinosceros hides.
I find it incredible that the government is so reluctant to make an outright ban on nuisance calls (this is what they are) made from and within the UK. There is an e-petition you can sign on http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/6918. Why not add your voice here?

Peter Bateman says:
30 September 2011

I am also registered with the TPS but although cold calls have reduced slightly I still get them very regularly.
Without being rude to the caller is there any other way of stopping them.

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

lie and say you are renting the house. it will stop 1 call centre per call you lie to (as in you wont recieve a call form that call centre again).
this is the honest truth and i sugguest you take it x

balmcake says:
23 October 2011

I get at least 5 cold calls aday but my solution is I bought an answerphone, and it has a message saying ‘ I dont accept cold calls, if its someone i know leave a maessage and I will get back to you if not dont ring me if I need anything I ring you’ my freinds say its them and I pick up the phone the other end just puts the phone down, so if I dont know the number I dont answer job sorted. when I was with BT I didnt get as many because I opted out but international ones still got through my answer phone way nobody gets through and if it is important like say my bank they start to leave a message and I just answer.

Why go to the trouble of leaving that message? Cold callers will just hang up anyhow, without listening to the message.

I use my answerphone o vet calls. I will never respond to or return dead messages.

Karsam says:
24 November 2011

We have TPS but we still get some cold calls, I usually try to get rid of them as soon as I realise that this is happening, however we have been getting alot of calls with no-one there, as far as we understand this is automated dailing. We don’t know who is doing this but it maybe TalkTalk. I think this should be investigated and stopped ASP

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

We are strapped to a computer and the call keeps coming to the rest our voices we leave the call dead, like youve said there. just be polite and lie and say your a OAP or you rent. im sorry but this is the only way x

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

hi, look im a cold caller!
my names justin, you not going to kill me.
fact of the matter is some people get the bum deal in life. some people have to do 30 hours a week in this s***y f*****g role and sorry to say im one of those d***s. im a trained chef and that certain work is hard sometimes so in order to pay for food and to survive i have to do this shit. but seeing as youve just read my sorry ass story i can help you… think about it for 1 second… they want to sell stuff on you property… but what if its not yours? whats if you lied and said it was rented or council? they/i cant sell you stuff to stick to a house that doesnt belong to you can i? just lie!
il basicly tell you, we have 6 places to dump a call once were done with it,
1 answer phone (nothing much yourl just get another call in a week or so)
2 next call (no interest or hang up)
3 bite (youve show interest and will recieve a call back for someone else to try pitching you)
4 business ( you can lie and say your a business, it works alot better that saying your rented or such.)
5 DND (delete number details. thing is with this one, tho i use this one alot other members (all) arent aloud to use it)
6 OAP/tentant (speaks for itself. if you get bored guys, pretend to be a old lady and say you 95 od and the windows will see you out for the next 2 weeks you have left)

basicly you dont EVER want to hang up and say your not interested cause yourl go into next call and get another one in a week. you want to lie! you rent or a OAP your house is council! you pick!

Now the thing with TPS cause i see you guys are complaining about it.
IT DOESNT WORK! itl never work because of loop holes in the law!
the way my place works is were not selling you anything were offering a free service. which is basicly a plan and design of a kitchen and the dude who will offer you it isnt a designer but a sales man, but by the time you relise that hes been in your house for a hour and a half and hes already charming you!
you can get a plan and a desigh for free anywhere and from any company, my favourate quote from people i try the set up with a appointment is “but every company do a design for free, hell my 7 year old can draw me a picture of a fookin kitchen!” make me laugh every time and think 2i aint got this one.”
anyway i think im going on and on now so i hope i helped from the eyes of these dickheads that call you, we just need money, just like you, and wel all degrade ourselfs when were that low down. all i ask as only of them is be nice, dont hang up, and just lie. cause after that phone call maybe we can all be happy 😀
my name is justin, good night x

Hi Justin, thanks for the frank comments. Very enlightening, however please try and keep the bad language out. Read our commenting guidelines for more info: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines We’ve also edited out some identifiable content from your comments, to protect yourself and also us. Thanks.

Justinio says:
6 December 2011

p.ss ok ive read alot of stuff. you guys dont know where your numbers have come from.
basicly, you know you may have voted at some point or someone has in your house or before you moved here or maybe you got given the number of some who has. what they do with that data is they sell it on to telemarketing companys after they are done with it. and thats basicly it. its not hard to understand and it works that way for your morgage or a loan or anything youve pasted your contact details on and not read the fine print. and i swear to god if one of you says youve never done such a thing the you deserve cold calls! cause i have and EVERYONE has!

Roger J says:
6 December 2011

I’ve been registered with the TPS for several years, I’m also ex-directory but still get annoying “market research” call from companies. When I finally complained to the TPS about these, with details of the latest company that called, I was told that they were powerless to stop these sorts of calls and that I would have to contact the companies individually in order to prevent them from contacting me. This is a piece from their reply:
“Research calls are not deemed as direct marketing as they generally relate to information gathering or seeking of opinions whereas the purpose of a direct marketing call would be to sell or market a product or service.
If you want to stop these calls you will need to contact the companies that make them directly or inform the caller that the call, and any future calls from them is not welcomed. Additionally, you can also request that they suppress your details. They are obliged to comply with your request. If the company continues to call disregarding your request you may seek further guidance from the Market Research Society (MRS), furthermore the MRS has a code of conduct which all members must comply with.”
I’m quite annoyed that these market research companies are exempt from the rules governing cold calling and I think the government should revise the legislation to make the TPS a “one-stop” shop for preventing all cold calls including market research.

Just been called by SSE and thats even being registered with the TPS. More teeth to the TPS please, Too many companies seem to just ignore the fact they’re there.

peter says:
9 February 2012

We have been registered with the TPS for many years but feel it is a total waste of time. We get at least 6 cold calls a day, some there is nothing and the call is terminated as though they have hung up. Often the caller is of asian origin and asks to speak to the householder, and so on and so on.

How can we stop it all, it is very distressing, is there any other way apart from asking your telephone provider to put a block on all calls and calling you to see if you want to speak to the caller, which would cost about £5 a month. Please anyone help.

Keith says:
9 February 2012

I registered with the TPS many years ago and the number of cold calls dropped significantly. However, I have noticed that the number of cold calls has increased over the last few months and it seems that some companies/organisation are not taking notice of the numbers listed on the TPS. I have also noticed that some companies/organisations use a marketing company to ‘conduct a survey’, which is not strictly a cold call and, therefore, is not covered by the TPS guidelines.

So far this year I have had about 1 dozen calls telling me that they are from “Microsoft”, they give an English name but with an Asian accent. Before thay go any further I tell them that there’s nothing wrong with my computor, besides, I’m insured so if anything goes wrong, I just call the insurance company, so thank and good night. If they continue calling, I finally ask them to delete my name and number from there data bas and don’t bother calling me again, I don’t get many calls after that.

I wouldn’t bother wasting any time talking to cold callers. I would just put the handset beside me and carry on with what I was doing. I would not say a thing, once it was clear that this was a marketing call. The silent treatment must surely be more effective than entering into a conversation or getting angry. I might just say, “Hold the line”. Eventually, the message would get through.

John Paul says:
23 February 2012

I really can see this from both sides of the fence: I am a consumer (of course) meaning I have a phone at home. I too have had some really bad experiences from idiots who should not be allowed to have any access to a telephone whatsoever but I am a telemarketer for my living (small-scale – selling the wares of my business).

I will cover my views as a consumer later. I would like to air some points as a telemarketer first. I probably make 50 or 60 calls a day. I offer a business to business service (so there shouldn’t be any residents on the lists of those I call – but I suppose there must be the odd few who run a ‘business at home’).

Let me say first and foremost, part of the problem for small businesses such as the one I work for is the cost of TPS / CTPS screening. Contrary to popular belief, lists of “do not call” numbers are NOT made freely available to the likes of us by the government or its agencies; and in fact checking numbers on a small scale basis is actually incredibly expensive. Sure, if checking many thousands or perhaps millions of numbers, the cost is a fraction of a penny each – but at the volumes I make for our firm, the “data cleansers” want 10 pence to check EACH number. This expense would be incurred before I call them, ie. Completely excluding the cost of the telephone call itself! Aside of the £25 or £30 a week cost of checking each number before it is dialled (that is all numbers, including the dead / not connected ones) the actual TPS checking itself is cumbersome too because it is all too easy to accidentally mis-key any number when checking.

PLEASE let me state that nobody at my firm wants to aggravate anybody by calling them where we know they don’t want to receive calls from us – but the cost of all this red tape to check all these numbers (notwithstanding the fact that on occasion a mistake is made when doing so) makes doing the checking cost prohibitive – so more often than not, it doesn’t get done.

Some of you will be sitting there cussing that I must be a criminal. Actually, no. I go to work and I pay taxes to support the country. I repeat I do not want to aggravate anybody on the phone so can I ask WHY won’t the government give FREE access to the TPS / CTPS lists? Why do they want to make our firm’s survival even harder by having us pay so disproportionately to engage in what most reasonable people would call reasonable economic behavioural activity? Namely looking for more customers. Taking the argument that people like me should be summarily shot at dawn for overlooking TPS checking because it is cumbersome and an expensive excess to its extreme – do you want to pay me dole money? Do you think people should pay even more for the goods and services we provide? Even as a consumer, even if you don’t have a phone at all; the things you buy at a shop have costs associated. YOU ULTIMATELY PAY MORE for all this red tape.

This is especially galling when I consider the amounts of calls we get from foreigners who don’t speak English very well who call repeatedly. Please accept with my confession about not religiously checking TPS / CTPS ourselves (and spending a lot of money and time doing so) that whenever speaking with someone new (ie that 1st cold call), I always ask permission to call again should we not generate business immediately and if ever someone asks or tells me not to call anymore, I take them off of our calling lists – this is nothing to do with the sanctions of the law as such, it is quite simple economics. If I call someone and they tell me (in whatever way, I would obviously prefer politely) that they don’t want me to call them, then I won’t call them: If, for example, you won’t buy soap powder on the phone and you convey “I won’t ever buy soap powder on the phone” then, guess what – I won’t call you again to ask you whether you would like to buy soap powder when I could be asking someone else!

As an individual, my own telephone style is always polite and friendly – even when people are rude to me: I don’t wish to tempt providence in stating this but I have been selling the way I do for around 5 years now and although I must call the odd TPS & CTPS’d number literally every day, we have never had a complaint raised to us by the people who police these things – so I would assert even though we don’t quite follow the rules (and waste a lot of money doing so), I must be pretty good at what I do in as much as I don’t appear to upset too many people for too long where I have inadvertently called these “banned” numbers I shouldn’t.

Part of the problem though is people who don’t know how to operate a phone and be polite or know how to take no for an answer. At work, when I am in between making calls myself (usually note making), I also sometimes answer the phone too. I can not believe the amount of people who are rude to me where I am the one having received a call. “Can I speak to your MD?” asks the caller. “Who’s calling?” I reply. “Who are you?” retorts the caller. The first question is perfectly reasonable to ask on the phone being answered but when being subsequently asked “Who’s calling?”, the caller should be saying something like “It’s John Smith from ABC Widgets. We recently started making oversize widgets in chrome. They are of good quality – and we would like to get on your suppliers’ list.” This statement, I would suggest, is polite and direct and non evasive. It’s a sales call. Why hide it? If the caller is going to successfully conclude his call – guess what – we’re going to find out at some point it’s a sales call so why hide it? Be proud and come to the point. Sales are the lifeblood of every single commercial entity – we all have to do it some way or other or go skint… And even where my firm doesn’t buy chrome widgets a call made like this (the latter) would not cause an upset (whether or not we ourselves were on TPS {we’re not}) – even if the caller on being told this went on to ask “I understand from what you have told me that you’re not in the market for these right now – but would you mind if I were to call back at a reasonable point in future to see whether anything has changed?” Even if our firm NEVER used these items and would NEVER be likely to, there is no harm done when telemarketing is done properly like this. But I have to confess that there are a great deal of idiots out there who won’t take no for an answer or are belittling or patronising to the people who answer the phone. Why do they do it? They cause grief for all of us!

I know there will be those reading this who only care about themselves and would have me along with every other single telemarketer shot at dawn. But ignoring those who don’t want to engage in reasonable dialogue at all or consider the other side or the pressures firms like mine are under, I promise everyone reading this that I do my job in the right spirit if not exactly according to the law. I repeat, I would check TPS / CTPS every day if doing so was FREE and not so expensive on the small scale my firm makes calls. Why don’t the government help small companies like mine by making the TPS / CTPS lists available free of charge? These are just telephone numbers after all. Why are small firms like the one I work for expected to spend large amounts of money (proportionately) to be able to check these things? It strikes me as just another money making scam on the part of the government – where people like me get punished (fined or made to pay fortunes) but those outside the UK or who really just don’t care at all will nevertheless continue to make calls without fear of reproach and still do so poorly.

Poor telephone manners is not limited to sales calls. What about debt collectors? Domestically (ie at home on my own residential line), in previous poorer times personally, I have suffered with being plagued by debt collectors who called me incessantly perhaps 7 times in a day for weeks on end. The risible thing about it when contemplating the TPS quandary is that the Information Commissioners Office, Ofcom, etc, etc. weren’t interested in putting a stop to that. The only thing that did eventually work really well was going and buying a telephone recorder and telling the unwanted callers that they were being recorded. I only needed to do this a few times (and begin to play back one recording from them whilst receiving another call) for the calls to cease as I quoted the Harassment Act 1997 and stated that by their ongoing act of continuing to call me, they agreed through their action to pay me £1,000 per phone call for each call made – and that they now knew I could prove they were making the calls !!!!

So finally: My advice to anyone receiving an unwanted sales call (whether you are TPS’d or not). Try to be polite! Most people (even those who have been trained poorly or not at all) are only trying to earn a living. Most people respond to being asked politely not to call again by not doing so. Not everyone who phones you is a grade A creep! You wouldn’t go and clip every child around the ear for carrying a football past your house because you once had had a window smashed by youths playing football. Likewise Not jumping to the wrong conclusion and getting your own rudeness in first may actually help you rectify a problem, whether you are on the TPS list or not.


Fantastically well put and thank you for making us aware of ‘the other side of the fence’.

Clare Sheldon says:
17 April 2012

I registered with TPS a few years ago, and initially it worked very well. However, during the last year or two, I have been bombarded with nuisance calls. I think most of them are scams, which apparently the TPS can’t do anything about. I know a lot of these dodgy calls come from abroad, but I don’t see why this should be a reason why the general public should have to put up with them. Surely the government could legislate against them, or reach some kind of international agreement on nuisance calls?