The British public is being bombarded with millions of illegal phone calls, emails and texts – flogging everything from credit cards to dog food, booze and boilers. But there are ways you can fight back against these purveyors of junk.
Since the start of last month, seven companies responsible for pestering the public have been fined a combined £935,000.
Transgressions by these firms amounted to more than 163 million automated nuisance calls, 1.2 million unwanted text messages and 1.9 million intrusive emails. One brazen company was responsible for 146 million calls about payment protection insurance over four months.
The Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog responsible for monitoring how companies use our personal details, issued the fines. It has hundreds of investigations still ongoing. Steve Eckersley, its head of enforcement, says: ‘Automated calls are a blight on society. They disregard a person’s right to have their wish for peace and quiet in their home respected.’
Even when people have taken action to shield themselves from nuisance calls, they have still been targeted. For two years, a small-scale landline and broadband provider bothered people who had expressed their wish to be left alone.
They were registered on the Telephone Preference Service – a free, official register for people to opt out of sales calls from legitimate British businesses.
There are 23 million telephone numbers protected by this service. Around 50,000 new ones are being added each month as people desperately seek to put an end to the onslaught of cold calls.
Victims of shambolic and ruthless marketing tricks often feel anxious, harassed and threatened.
One person who recently complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office said: ‘They are calling twice a day. It drives me insane. I have a sick relative I help care for so need to answer.’
Another said: ‘These unsolicited calls are unbearable due to their persistence, regularity and interruption of my daily activities, usually close to meal times. It is time they were stopped.’
Helen Dewdney, like most people, has been on the receiving end of numerous spam messages, including ones about accidents she has never had.
She is founder of consumer website The Complaining Cow, and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide To Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!
Dewdney says: ‘Unsolicited messages are distracting. Even having to delete an email or clicking “unsubscribe” takes time and is an annoyance.’
HOW DOES IT HAPPEN
Personal information is often sold to third parties when people either buy something (in the process supplying their personal details) or they fill out a form, failing to indicate they do not wish to receive mailings from other companies.
John Mitchison, of the Direct Marketing Association, says: ‘People end up on call lists in different ways. For example, reputable companies may call existing customers or consumers who have agreed to receive marketing calls through a tick-box when signing up for an account.
‘But rogue businesses will often trick people into agreeing to receive calls.’
SPAM AND A SCAM
Much of the junk filling email inboxes and the unsolicited calls to our phones are not only annoying, but fraudulent. Research by bank Santander estimates there have been 600 million scam attempts by email, phone and text message in the last year. People looking to withdraw money from pensions are at particular risk, as fraudsters have ramped up activity in this area. The Government is looking to ban all cold calls relating to pensions – as already exists for mortgages – though there is little indication about when this will come into force. The ban will also cover text messages and emails.
Sending scam emails is known as ‘phishing’, a word coined in the mid-90s. The phrase is believed to be a blend of ‘phreaking’ – the old way to describe hacking – and fishing, as hackers ‘fish’ for user details online.
University of Leicester student Claire Constance, 23, used a scam email to her advantage by turning it into a free lunch courtesy of Santander’s ‘Phish and Chip’ campaign. The bank has a fish and chip van touring the country, handing out free grub to those who have received fraudulent emails or texts. It visits London this Tuesday, Leeds on Friday and Glasgow the day after. Claire says: ‘I received an email, supposedly from PayPal, about an online game I used to play ten years ago.
‘As it was not from its normal email address and in an unusual format I figured it was not from the company and ignored it.
The problem with phishing is that there is always doubt about whether the email is authentic or not. I imagine many people get caught out.’
PUT AN END TO THE MISERY
You can fight back against nuisance calls, emails and texts with these top tips:
This is a free, official opt-out register. All organisations are legally obliged to avoid hassling people on the list unless you have given them permission to contact you. This does not stop calls from fraudsters.
‘Texts, emails and calls should stop within a month and post after two months. If the company ignores your request you can go to court to enforce it.’