Tony Levene is a renowned financial journalist, who has previously been a columnist for Guardian Money. He has written several books, including 'Investing for Dummies' and won the ABI Lifetime Achievement award and the Headline Money award.
Ring, ring, ring. There goes your home phone again. And if it's between 9am and 9pm, the betting is it's not family, friends or anyone else you want to hear from but a nuisance call.
Many receive half a dozen or more unwanted calls a day. These include phoney market research, recorded messages encouraging you to claim for the accident you never had, “software engineers” pretending they have diagnosed a fault on your computer, and slick talkers trying to take your money for non-existent investments. As I write this, I have had recorded messages on energy switching and pensions mis-selling.
“Ex-directory” offers little help unless you have never revealed your number on a form. Legally or not, someone mines this information to sell it on. The Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which has 18 million on its register, including mobile phones, and is intended to stop all unwanted sales and marketing calls has some value but according to consumer organisation Which?, it only stops a large number of nuisance calls getting through - not all.
Never give “permission to call” - real information can be emailed.
Genuine market and political research is exempt from TPS. So they pretend to be market researchers. If you have ever ticked one of those boxes saying you are happy to hear from “carefully selected partners”, that effectively opens the door. This “permission to call”offers a legal escape from TPS rules. There is no effective time limit on this so if you gave permission five years ago, it would still be valid if you had not withdrawn it, assuming you can even remember that box-tick.
And nuisance callers also know the rules often lag technology which has dramatically reduced the cost of international calls and text messages.
A further problem is the policing of pest callers is split between agencies – silent calls are regulator Ofcom's responsibility, but recorded and text messages are governed by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). Tracing these calls can be more difficult than working out the horsemeat trail.
Last year, the ICO fined a spam text company £440,000 following a raid. It had been sending out up to 840,000 unsolicited texts a day to push claims management companies. ICO is due to take action against others. The TPS openly admits the problem – the first stage of finding a solution.
Last month (Feb 28 ) Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns raised the matter in parliament, citing a three-fold rise in complaints. Among other measures, he wants a two-pronged attack, both on the phones pests and on the respectable high street firms and well know charities in the UK which end up buying leads and other information.
And this month (March 19) Which?, launched a campaign to pull the plug on phone pests. It wants all the regulators involved – ICO, the Ministry of Justice and Ofcom - to set up a joint taskforce to prevent unsolicited calls and texts, starting with firms gathering information for claims firms.
Doing this, the consumer group says, will require policing, to scrutinise claims management firms, followed by punishment including substantial fines, and publicity – naming and shaming.