Sunday, 28 October 2012

Junk calls

As anyone reading my blog for a while will know, I really hate junk calls.

Much like junk emails, I am sure that once upon a time they were sufficient few and far between that they were not a major problem. Junk post is sort of bearable because it is relatively low in volume - but imagine if every morning your post was a large sack, somewhere in which was the couple of "real" letters you needed. We all know email has become like that, and junk calls are getting as bad.

There are several ways to tackle junk callers...

When the office started getting literally hundreds of calls a day I automated a system to play one-sided conversations to keep the callers on as long as possible. I managed calls lasting 5 minutes, and some were posted on my blog. The particular company making such calls no longer call any of our numbers - it was very effective. Oddly a honey trap of thousands of other numbers did not get the same level of calls - and we wonder if the fact we had notified the TPS of our whole office number block was the reason we got the calls. Hard to prove though. If I get a chance I may test this theory by listing specific numbers with TPS and not listing others and checking levels of calls.

Of course the TPS should be the answer - tell them you don't want to be called. My experience is that it is not that helpful. I still get junk calls. When I mention the TPS they may apologise, etc, but usually hang up when I explain that they are criminals now.

This is a key point - such calls are criminally illegal if they are to numbers in the TPS. Its the law! It is also the law that you can make a civil claim for damages if you get such calls - so not just breach of law (and hence the only action would be taken by CPS or DPC), you can make a county court claim!

So cudos to this man:-

He told the junk caller that he would charge them. They still called. He charged them. He did not even rely on the legislation for junk calls for this - he relied on the making of a contractual offer (offering his time for a fee) which they accepted (by continuing to call).

The real shame is that it was not tested in court, but makes it well worth a try for anyone else similarly annoyed by them. Submitting a county court claim is quick and easy and relatively cheap. You can do it on-line.

The big problem I find is that you cannot find out who is behind the call. Well, you can, if you buy what they are selling, I suppose, but not just by asking. They typically have no clue who they are. They may know a brand name but can't say if a limited company or registered office address, etc. They are useless.


  1. BT are the worst for this. We have no BT account, and no direct association with them (the landline being owned by A&A).

    We get cold called by BT regularly. We're very careful to ask whether they're a company representing BT or actually are BT. About half the time they confirm that yes they are actually BT.

    Then we get into the conversation about the TPS. Many seem to be under the impression that BT are exempt from it ('that doesn't apply to us, we're BT!'). The other classic is that this call doesn't count as it's not marketing 'we're just trying to save you money' (by trying to persuade me to change phone provider and ISP to BT.. lol)

    I've long realised that TPS is useless.. even their website says now they don't deal with individual complaints.. the hypothesis that TPS makes you *more* likely to receive junk calls is definitely interesting and worth investigating.

  2. I would factor into the experiment also, what happens when numbers *expire* from being listed in the TPS ?

    1. Oooh, don't get me started. They should not expire according to the legislation. Only if they do have reason to believe they are no longer the same subscriber should they be removed. For residential they assume they are the same unless told. For business they assume not the same after a year, which is mad. Their only explanation was that people change DDI a lot, so I asked how that is a change of "subscriber" (i.e. the business not the "user" which is the person using the DDI). They did not have an answer. I can't see any reason to assume business numbers have a shorter life than residential. I must start kicking up a fuss as they ignore letters I send these days. I should escalate, ultimately suing OFCOM as the TPS/FPS is actually their responsibility legally, they just subcontract it.

  3. Based on personal experience in a domestic situation, I can heartily confirm once you register with TPS you get a bucket load of calls for a short duration, almost as if they are trying to get all the junk sales in before the 28 day period when the registration becomes live.

    This of course can only happen if the TPS provide either a list of new registrants, or companies are data mining the changes themselves..

    1. Which of course makes no sense - someone who's registered for TPS is much less likely to respond positively to being cold called, so why call them?

      I wonder if some of these companies are paid per call rather than per lead.

    2. Are you sure that the TPS is (on average) people who are less likely to respond positively to a cold call?

      I ask, because I know lots of people who've signed up their elderly relatives to the TPS simply because they've become less critical in their old age, and are likely to fall prey to a cold caller. If it's now the case that people who might give money to a cold caller are all signed up to the TPS, and the people not signed up are the ones who will never be economic to call.

  4. I wrote to OFCom, TPS and the Information Commissioner about how the TPS does not work because identifying the junk callers is impossible with extra added "and even more so if you are deaf". I argued that they had not considered the needs of textphone users and those who can't string the junkcallers along. I got some pretty useless replies equating to "sorry, you're fucked". I'm not sure that's lawful to be honest - they're required to consider the needs of different groups and 1 in 7 people are considered hearing impaired to some degree in the UK.

    I think there must be more that can be done - maybe a "report a junk call" system to your telco and have them trace it, if you knew the date/time of call and reported quickly they must be able to work it out to some degree. Then if a certain number of junk calls were received then 'someone' could block that route. Although I am guessing it's higher up than A&A level and somewhere at infrastructure?

    Sadly a lot of callers are outside of the UK and weasel out of the UK legislation which makes it hard to nobble them. :( I see the temptation to have a very loud whistle on the line - although that can hurt a person's hearing :(

    Interestingly while I get the occasional PPI spam SMS on my mobile, I have almost never received unwanted/unexpected calls although all "unknown" get hung up on cos it's usually my work's reception alerting me to a client arriving but usually it is them and hasn't been spammers.

  5. My personal experience with the ICO has been similarly bad - every time I've made a complaint against companies breaking the law (sending spam SMS, spam email, ignoring TPS, outright lying on cold calls, mishandling personal data, etc.), the ICO's response has been pretty much universally the same - they say they are writing to the offending company to "remind them of their legal obligations". How is that any kind of a deterrent? I'm pretty sure that if I, as an individual, broke the law (lets say, I got caught speeding, or I broke into someone's house and nicked their TV) I wouldn't just get a letter reminding me not to do that.

    My last complaint to the ICO was in regards to several different infractions: I had used an car insurance comparison website and specifically ensured that the "sell my details to third parties" box was unticked, as I always do. Said website had ignored that preference and sold off my details to several other companies.

    One of the companies cold-called me and explained that they were calling from my insurance company. When queried further, they clarified that they were calling from a third party company that had been contracted by my insurance company to call me. It quickly became apparent (partly from the fact that they didn't even know who my insurance company was!) that they were nothing to do with my insurer and were in fact just trying to get me to make a personal injury claim regarding an accident I had several years ago... an accident in which I wasn't even present (my parked car got hit by another vehicle).

    Another of the companies cold-called me to try and get me to make a PPI claim. Again, this company ignored the TPS, and when queried on it, outright stated that they didn't have to screen against TPS since I had apparently ticked the "yes I want crap from third parties" box (ignoring the fact that I didn't tick that box, legally they are still required to screen against TPS anyway). They went on to explain that the ICO has specifically told them they didn't need to screen against TPS (the ICO denies that they would have done this).

    So we have 1 company mishandling my data (ignoring the "do not sell to third parties" preference and selling it anyway), 2 companies failing to screen against TPS and then lying to me. In all these cases the ICO told me they would write to the offending companies and remind them of their legal obligations. When I pointed out this wasn't really good enough they flatly refused to do anything further. Of course, my data is now "out there" and can't be recalled anyway - the company that mishandled it, sold it to many third parties and told them I had opted into calls from third parties. No doubt these third parties have sold it on again, and they have sold it on again, so there's no way to secure that data again. What is actually needed is for it to be completely illegal (and enforced) for any company to sell your data without you specifically giving *them* written permission to do so, so that an individual's data wouldn't keep being sold from organisation to organisation in unstoppable perpetuity.