We've all experienced it. Your phone rings, you pick it up, say hello and it's someone you don't know trying to sell you something – or a recorded message. Nuisance calls can be irritating, time-wasting and for some people, highly distressing. But can anything be done about them?
In July 2013, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, announced they were joining forces to tackle nuisance calls. Then, from last April, the ICO was given new powers to crack down on nuisance calls through an amendment to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. The results of which are now starting to be seen.
Only last month the ICO issued its largest ever fine of £350,000 to Prodial, a company that had made more than 46m nuisance calls.
Manchester based MyIML, a telemarking company selling solar panels was also recently fined £80,000 by the ICO for contacting people who had opted out of receiving marketing calls.
Why are nuisance calls such an issue?
One of the main reasons nuisance calls are such a big problem these days is that it has never been so easy or cheap to setup a call centre. Today's telephone network is one large computer and with business connection charges falling, all a telesales company needs is their own computer loaded with software – which is readily available from the web.
With modern Voice over IP systems, call centres don't even need their own direct link to the telephone network, so long as they are connected to the internet. The telesales organisation's computer can then automatically dial telephone numbers, connecting those that answer through to telesales operators or a recorded message.
There is generally considered to be three types of nuisance call. Live calls are unwanted calls from a real person, normally from a telesales company. Automated calls result in you hearing a pre-recorded marketing message when you answer the phone. And silent or abandoned calls are just that – when you answer the phone no-one's there. Then there's also the issue of unwanted SMS text messages.
In January 2016, the ICO received 9,633 reports of nuisance calls to be investigated: 45% of these related to automated calls, 42.5% live calls and 12.5% SMS text messages.
How can you stop nuisance calls?
With nuisance calls becoming such a, well, nuisance, the telephone providers are now moving to tackle the problem at source. Talk Talk has expanded their HomeSafe system to monitor the frequency of calls and to automatically block those that exceed a threshold from even reaching a customer's phone. And in February this year, BT announced a similar service is to be rolled out across their network.
But on top of this, there is also a lot you can do yourself to help reduce the number of calls. First off, you should always report nuisance calls to either the ICO or Ofcom – so they can be investigated. It's all too easy to get annoyed and slam the phone down, but if you take a minute to gather as much information as possible and pass it on to the relevant organisation, at least then you might be saving someone else from the nuisance of nuisance calls in the future.
You should also register with the Telephone Preference Service. While this alone won't stop nuisance calls, because it relies on the compliance of organisations, it does act as a deterrent, and is well worth doing if you haven't done so already.
Another way of managing nuisance calls, is by using caller line identification – which allows you to see the number of the person calling you. If you don't recognise it, you simply have the option of not answering. You can also use call blocking either on your phone or through your telephone provider to stop calls from specific numbers.
Another tip, don't immediately speak but listen when answering the phone because if it remains silent, there's a good chance it's a telesales call.
And of course, you've probably heard if before, but do be very careful of the small print on any paper or online form you complete, as you may inadvertently be allowing that organisation to contact you for marketing purposes - effectively saying yes to cold calling.
Will they ever go away?
Over the years, telecommunications firms have benefited from connecting companies to their networks and through the sale of services such as call blocking, so it is good to see some of that now being re-invested into tackling nuisance calls.
However, the next challenges are already emerging with a growing number of nuisance calls now being directed towards mobile phones. "Spoofing" has also become a big issue, with telesales companies now able to deceive us, and the network providers, by faking their own telephone number to get you to take the call.
So while it is good to see the regulators have begun the fightback with a renewed determination, sadly, so long as it remains profitable for telesales companies to operate, nuisance calls will continue to plague us. Even if overall volumes are reduced, each one we receive is still a nuisance.
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