Cold callers face crackdown
As the regulator clamps down on firms making unwanted calls, here's how to fight back.
Two months ago, my family and I moved home. Thanks to my wife's incredible powers of organisation, our relocation went as smoothly as anyone could wish for.
Of course, moving house is always an upheaval, even once the physical act is over and done with.
In my experience, one of the most tedious parts is providing my new contact details to all my contacts, whether personal, social, professional or financial. Frankly, contacting 50-100 separate organisations bores me almost to tears.
Also, having moved home four times in seven years, my telephone number has changed a few times. (I'm not in the Witness Protection Programme, I hasten to add!) Alas, one of the worst things about taking on a new or existing telephone number is the host of unwanted callers poised and ready to waste my time.
I hate pesky calls
Both my wife and I work at home, so it doubles as our workplace.
As a result, there are few things more annoying than the unwanted telephone calls we get at all hours of the day. Since arriving at my new address in April, I've had countless calls from companies (usually automated-dialler messages) telling me how to:
- grab the fortune awaiting me from reclaiming mis-sold PPI
- pay off only a fraction of my debts
- claim compensation following an accident
- switch energy, broadband or telephone to save me a mint
- claim a holiday or some other bogus prize.
This list goes on and on, but I'm sure you've got the message. Frankly, it'd be a small miracle if you haven't had similar calls. Indeed, Citizens Advice reckons British households received an average of 38 unsolicited telephone calls each in 2009 from debt-management firms alone.
The big problem with almost all of these cold calls is that they are 'number withheld' calls. In other words, you can't get the caller's number by dialling 1471. What's more, many of these calls come from overseas, from companies happy to flout the UK's privacy and data-protection laws.
Clamping down on cold calls
However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, in the form of new powers being given to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
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The ICO enforces the UK's communication and data-protection laws, providing a free, independent complaints and enforcement service to consumers. The ICO's helpline is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and is 0303 123 1113 or 01625 545745.
The ICO also helps prevent unsolicited marketing to consumers who don't wish to be contacted with unwanted junk mail and spam emails.
The good news is that the ICO has been granted new powers to find and fine the most persistent offenders. Importantly, the Information Commissioner can now force telephone companies and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to hand over these pests' details. What's more, the ICO has the power to fine firms up to £500,000 for persistent breaches of data protection.
Without this information, the ICO's hands have been tied behind its back, which is why it's been able to punish only 19 organisations in the past five years. In future, with the power to force telecoms firms and ISPs to hand over details, the watchdog can properly hunt down and discipline repeat offenders.
As well as being plain annoying, cold calls often turn very sinister. Indeed, they are a favourite tool of fraudsters flogging bogus lotteries, property and timeshare scams, dodgy loan offers and the like. Hence, I tend to treat all cold calls as potential frauds, usually hanging up without delay.
How to stamp out unsolicited marketing
Like me, if you resent being cold-called, then here are 10 ways to fight back:
- Add your telephone number to the opt-out register provided by the free Telephone Preference Service. This takes 28 days to activate, but then filters out marketing calls from legitimate companies. You can call the TPS on 0845 07 07 07 or 0191 501 3681.
- Similarly, register with the Mailing Preference Service to stem the flow of junk mail.
- Tick the 'no contact' box when completing documents, both online and on paper. If you do agree to be contacted, then companies sell your details to third parties. Predictably, this leads to a wave of junk mail and unsolicited calls.
- Never, ever give out personal details -- especially financial information -- to cold callers. This could lead to you being targeted by fraudsters and other criminal elements.
- Mark unwanted mail with "Not known at this address. Please remove these details from your system" and then return it unopened to the sender.
- Delete all spam text messages sent to your mobile. Doing anything else only encourages the spammers. Also, delete all spam emails and, ideally, don't even open them.
- If you're fed up with nuisance calls, then screen them using BT's Anonymous Caller Reject service. Costing £4.10 a month, it stops calls from withheld or anonymous numbers.
- Similarly, BT's Caller Display service costs £3 a month and allows you to see who is calling before you answer.
- Also, BT's Choose to Refuse service costs £3.40 a month and stops unwanted or nuisance calls.
- When someone cold calls me, I sometimes ask the caller to wait, place the phone to one side and then wander off. These people will wait minutes for me to return, thus wasting their own time.
Finally, I think it's high time that BT and other companies were obliged by law to offer call-blocking services to all households completely free of charge. Of course, telecoms firms won't do this without being forced to, as they make money from the billions of unwanted calls we get each year!