Monday, 12 December 2011

Anonymous cold calling

We have covered printed crap through your letter box in the past. What about all the obnoxious spam phone calls that you might get? Sometimes these are more than just a nuisance, for example the outright scam schemes targeting the elderly and computer-illiterate by telling them to pay to have viruses removed from their PCs. These calls are unaffected by whether you have registered with the toothless TPS or not. Here are some examples I received recently:

  • A woman who claimed to be 'Jessica' (she refused to give any other names). She insisted she was doing a 'British Survey', but refused to give company name or contact details, and eventually hung up when I kept insisting they be given.
  • Automated spam recorded message about an unclaimed refund on a payment protection policy.
  • Recorded voice claiming I was entitled to a prize.
  • A call from someone claiming to work for all the major gas electricity companies, offering some kind of refund. After asking again and again they finally said they were working for 'JANCKOH SOLUTIONS' and their name was 'JANG' and their phone number was 99928251 - they hung up at that point when I tried to clarify the phone number.
In each case I dialled 1471 afterwards but it said "We do not have the caller's number to return the call". It is annoying how easy it is for these spammers to remain anonymous and untroubled by any regulation. I contacted the TPS but they were as useless as I had expected - they will only do something if you have a legitimate company name and phone number. If the callers either
refuse to give these, or make them up (bear in mind that 1471 does not work on their calls) then the TPS will not do anything.

As well as the TPS, most phone companies would suggest other things you can do to deal with cold calling spammers below:
  • Many phone companies have a feature called 'anonymous call reject' – this service rejects any caller that withholds their number on dialling your line. However there is a monthly charge for this (c. £1.75 per month, charged by BT).
  • Another feature is 'choose to refuse' - a PIN dialling system that rejects the last number to call you. However this only works if you know the number dialling you and once again this can cost c. £1.75 per month.
  • You can change your phone number (at a cost of £15). It is possible that you might get another number that has been used and is on even more spam lists.
  • There is a 'Silent Guard Service' – this is another independent service that supposedly helps to limit cold calling and the number is 08443722325. However it seems slightly suspect.
  • You could perhaps install a device that shows the caller's number, and refuse to answer if the number is withheld. This may also need a paid service.
  • The final option is to go through the NCS (Nuisance Call Service). This is a service monitored by BT and the police that carry out call tracing and logging to discover who is calling you and will endeavour to stop the calls. This however is in the extreme and the charge levied by the NCS is £130 ex vat. 
  • There is more advice here, from Ofcom.
The common feature is that the victims of cold calling and spamming are the ones who pay, thanks to the failure of BT, Ofcom and the TPS. Do you suffer from these plaguing cold calls too?

March 2013: Which? starts a campaign on this issue. It includes this excellent suggestion from the comments:
"If junk emails can be blocked easily then why not phone calls?
I think the answer lays with the fact that the phone companies must be making millions from the companies that are making the calls.
If we had a system where unwanted calls could be reported or blocked - the same way that we dial 1471 for example.  The most frequent offenders would be quickly identified, chased, fined or banned.  The "number withheld" calls could also be logged by the same system (the phone companies must know the numbers and I don't need to know)."

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