Most of us would struggle to do without a phone, but the price of our dependence is being bombarded by nuisance calls and text messages. You may have been plagued by calls offering you everything from PPI compensation to double glazing — and those are the more benign ones. Many nuisance callers are trying to scam you.
You’re not alone. Research by Which? suggests that between 2013 and 2016, 40% of all phone calls were nuisance calls, with targeting of the elderly and vulnerable disproportionately high. At the same time, spam text messages have skyrocketed in recent years.
Until last year, companies could only be fined for making nuisance calls if it could be proved that the call caused “substantial damage or substantial distress”. It became clear something needed to be done when, in 2014, a marketing company called Tetrus Telecoms had their appeal against a fine upheld, in spite of having sent millions of unsolicited texts, because substantial damage or distress couldn’t be proven.
In 2015, the law was changed to remove this restriction and increase the maximum penalty to a £500,000 fine. Cold callers were also obliged to provide valid Calling Line Identification.
The Queen’s Speech
The Digital Economy Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, is primarily concerned with promoting high-speed broadband availability, but it also includes a measure that requires direct marketing companies to obtain consent for their calls, texts or emails.
This is a move forward, but Which? is campaigning for further measures to be added to the Bill, including heavier personal fines against directors of companies that break the law and individuals’ control over their data.
What Can You Do in the Meantime?
Making an activity illegal won’t necessarily stop it, especially in the case of scams trying to trick your personal information out of you, which have always been illegal. You can take a few actions to stay safe:
- Never give personal information over the phone.
- Don’t ring back or reply to a text, even to give them a piece of your mind. The return numbers are often charged at premium rate.
- Dial 1471 to find the caller’s number. This will be important if you make a complaint.
- Register with the Telephone Preference Service, which allows you to opt out of telemarketing calls.
- To make a complaint, go to the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office.
It’s unlikely that legislation will completely eliminate nuisance calls and texts, especially since many come from overseas and may be difficult to trace back to a UK company. Hopefully, though, the government will continue to make life harder for them.