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back to article Nuisance calls DOUBLE, Ofcom vows to hunt down offenders

Ofcom has outlined yet another plan to target annoying phones calls, which according to its latest report have doubled. It is hoping that imposing a few fines, writing several stern letters and doing more research will stem the flow - despite remaining entirely powerless to prevent calls that originate outside the UK. Many of …

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Whats good for the goose..

The USA fines companies huge amounts even outside of its legal duristiction e.g. Swiss banks etc. This should set a nice precedant for fining Florida based phone callers.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whats good for the goose..

Yes but the US is a law unto itself and backed by a huge military.

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Devil

Re: Whats good for the goose..

Not forgetting that, in order to sue American corporate entities, the UK would have to crawl out of the rectum of the US first, where it's been making itself comfortable for the last 50 years or so.

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Re: Whats good for the goose..

@Frank

Both the US and the UK are pursuing Swiss banks with a fair degree of success over assisting tax evaders. It's perfectly easy to apply sanctions to non-domiciled companies via their agents such as banks or credit card companies - viz. fines on HSBC for money-laundering for the Mexican mafia.

While VoIP may make tracking the individual perpetrators a bit more difficult, it is perfectly possible to threaten providers with loss of peering rights (the ability to pass calls into a network) if it takes no action against abusers on its network. This is the same principle when dealing with spam floods - servers, data centres or even whole networks can get blacklisted.

OfCom does need to act faster and impose bigger fines to deter offenders. In Germany, the number of nuisance calls more than halved after fines were significantly increased. But this requires OfCom to act in the interest of consumers which, as others have pointed out, it rarely does.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whats good for the goose..

"Yes but the US is a law unto itself and backed by a huge military."

Yeah!

Stop cold calling us or its war!

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A good stiff letter

I am sure that a stiff letter will deter even the most harded criminal, not...

FFS get serious, these guys are a PITA for everyone, the only reason the Telcos do nothing is because they also make money from these damned schemes.

The Telcos have the capacity to trace anything/everything, the technology requires it. Number obfuscation is done at the telco side so they can easilly determine the orginator of the calls.

Someone went to jail the other day for 5 years for copying films, in that case, these bastards should go down for 10 years. No-one appreciates those damned calls and these guys are basically predators preying on the innocent and the ignorant.

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Happy

Re: A good stiff letter

Yes, all correct. But Ofcom, set up as a regulator, operates primarily as a lobby group for the industry. They are completely toothless, and judging them by their actions completely uninterested in acting for the consumer.

Nothing at all will happen, ever. Successive governements have no interest in reforming Ofcom. You cant even get rid of your landline, since the state supported monopoly that is BT insists you pay for one to receive the internet.

Getting rid of your landline wouldn't evn help, as they move to mobile.

Unfortunately, the reality is that absolutely no-one anywhere has any interest in stopping this, as everyone in the chain apart from the poor suckers getting harassed is making money from it.

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Re: A good stiff letter

"You cant even get rid of your landline, since the state supported monopoly that is BT insists you pay for one to receive the internet."

Well that's not completely fair. Firstly you can get rid of your landline if you are in a cable area (and most are), though clearly you only have the option of cable Internet if you do. You can order pure Cable Internet and no telephone. Secondly you need a landline to receive ADSL Internet, and the reason you need two companies for that (the ISP and line rental company) is because you need someone to be responsible for installation between the street cabinet and your home. That installation has a subsidised price, The regulator could change the framework to ensure this service can be supplied by one entity, but that then would mean the regulator has to decide what is a reasonable cost for the ISP buying up a customer to compensate for the loss of a customer that was paying the subsidised installation cost (which means prices for that part get set by govt policy - not all think that's a good idea). Also ISP prices will then be higher to cover this cost - and since a landline is needed for Internet - you may as well have one of those too, whether you use it or not. All this can be changed by regulation but the alternatives are not necessarily better. If you allow the ISP's to do installation from the cabinet to the home, then you have multiple installers from different companies accessing the same cabinets. A recipe for disaster. It just wouldn't work. Traditionally BT owned the local loop network. They are now split in two companies, one which deals with whole-sale supply to the ISP's including the local loop and another which sells the advanced services running over it. The wholesale company is in some ways similar to Railtrack but since every customer has a "station" in their home, they also get some of their compensation for the cost of it all from the end user (not from the wholesale company but via their "advanced services company). The regulators deliberate strategy is to allow competitors at multiple levels in the network to compete from the centre outwards. This has had to be highly regulated and has taken years because it has major implications for street works on roads, pavements, sharing of ducts etc. All very complex. The bigger competitors have been building competing networks, pushing further and further out towards the customer. O2 for example now have their own fibre network to the street cabinet, now. Soon they may well be in a position to ignore BT's "Railtrack" wholesale business and provide the local loop part directly (if they aren't already doing that in some areas).

I'm not saying there aren't bad aspects to the system. Just pointing out it isn't quite so black and white. I worked a while back in cable, which often suffered at the hands of the regulator but still recognise they put a lot of thought into the system and there are no perfect policies that don't involve trade-offs when regulating competition between networks.

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Joke

Re: A good stiff letter

I think a good stiff letter would deter most hardened criminals - if the reason it was stiff was that it was written on the back of a recent polaroid(sp?) of their children

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Devil

Lets fight back

Totally agree.

I worked in Telcos. The fact that the calling number is not displayed is not down to the fact that it is not known. It is, to the Telco. The call setup sends a flag saying that the number should not be displayed.

This whole fiasco from overseas calls that say "Unknown" or "Foreign" on the handset can be overcome at a stroke. Pass a UK law saying that the overseas number will ALWAYS be shown, in full, regardless of the flag.

Lets see how long these calls carry one once people find that they can call a claims management company who will act for free and prosecute the cold callers, and share any compensation they can extract. All we need now is such companies to exists and tell us .....

.... oh.

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Re: Lets fight back

I've been trying for years to get BT to explain why they won't show international numbers on caller display. I've never been able to get a straight answer.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A good stiff letter @ SuccessCase

You understand about paragraphs, why did you only use 2 ?

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Fine BT for calls

Fine BT and the other Telcos ten pounds for every international nuisance call they forward to a TPS protected number.

I bet then the "problem" would be solved very quickly.

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FAIL

Re: Fine BT for calls

Earth calling Bob....

And how do you expect BT and other to know every single number in the world and if it is a "nuisance" call.

That timeshare company in Florida, calling Misses Miggins, did she sign up for a timeshare whilst on holiday in Florida last year or not? How do BT know?

And say in your grand plan, the magic pixies did create a magic white and blacklist for the entire world (including mobiles), do you think BT will suffer or the end customer?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fine BT for calls

Fint the teleco - and split the proceeds 50:50 with the injured subscriber.

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Alert

Re: Fine BT for calls

And how do you expect BT and other to know every single number in the world and if it is a "nuisance" call.

Start fining them and you can bet they'll figure out a way pretty quick.

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Go

Re: Fine BT for calls

1471: "to call back, press 3; if the previous call was a nuisance call, press 9"

together with a simple voting system, like "click to label this email as spam".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fine BT for calls

And for the 99.9999999% using spoofed / withheld / disposable numbers?

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Re: Fine BT for calls

With most telcos, dialling 1474 logs the call to the operator for investigation.

If you are unfortunate to receive malicious calls, the police will ask you to do this after each malicious call you receive so that they can get a record of these calls from the telco.

After receiving a slew of unwanted calls from India (sometimes several a day), we started dialling this after each one. They then stopped; this may be pure coincidence, but it can't harm to do it...

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Flame

One number to rule them all

A good start would be one body for people to complain to about nuisance calls. http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/telecoms/privacy/ shows differening bodies for differening crimes.

Next, OFCOM (Or whoever) actaully needs to get off their butt and do some investigation. Just claiming "There's no CLI so we can't trace the call" is rubbish. For all UK calls (and UK callers do hide their CLI) the phone companies know exactly where the call came from.

Finally, OFCOM (Or whoever) need to start dishing out some serious punishments to these outfits. A stern letter isn't going to do it. Hefty fines and/or cutting off their phone lines are a good start.

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Anonymous Coward

ofcom and bt has probably always known who and where from

computer generated or not, all calls hit cable/fibre infrastructure at somepoint, irrespective of satellite, undersea cable, or mobile phone routing.

the uk infrastructure, cables coming ashore, terrestial receiving stations were all at one time controlled by BT

BT used to say they couldn't identify callers from outside the uk.

one wonders how they ever got paid for 'routing' the call and how the call was conducted "two -way" without knowing the destination (source) 'routing' and thereby, the real caller.

with so many mergers, acquisitions and outsourcing BT would no doubt 'bellyache' now that its not possible.

the cables are still in place, the terrestial receiving stations - someone is controlling and managing these - so again, the 'routing' details are known to someone.

one can't wonder if OFCOM has been quitely urged not to follow up this, as the Gov always gets a share of the revenues generated, let alone, BT, EverthingEverywhere, Inmarsat, SKY, Virgin, O2, Orange, tom cobley and all.

even if not the actual call routing charge, the VAT and Electricity taxes used to generate/transmit the calls!

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Re: ofcom and bt has probably always known who and where from

Phone calls don't work like the Internet. An international call arriving into BT has a known endpoint on BT's switch, and they also know which overseas operator it came from (for charging) and some forwarded CLI, which could be anything. There is nothing to say it bears any relationship to the call originator, and it doesn't have to be accurate for the call to be successfully connected. So BT can connect the call in the UK and mark it 'International'. They may even trust the CLI in some cases and pass it on, but I've never seen that on my landline (not that we get many genuine international calls).

Having CLI on our phones, all 'International', 'Unavailable' and 'Witheld' calls are not answered & go to the answering machine. Almost without fail they hang up. It's a low hassle way of filtering the crap, though it would be good if there were a way of wasting their time without wasting mine.

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Facepalm

Re: ofcom and bt has probably always known who and where from

I agree. Interconnect billing is a huge part of any telco's system. If you can't identify originating callers number no telco in the world would forward the call to the called number. They would simply loose too much money.

If the calling number was spoofed, then the calling telco would be seriously out of profit themselves, because then they could not bill for the call.

I used to work in Telco's some years back and this was true then. I am having drinks with a couple of friends who still do work for Telco's tomorrow and I will ask them.

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Re: ofcom and bt has probably always known who and where from

"If you can't identify originating callers number no telco in the world would forward the call to the called number."

Not true.

The call is made in... oh, country A, destined for someone in country E, routing via B, C and D. E bills D. D bills C. C bills B. B bills A and A bills the originator. Only A knows who the originator is: B, C, D and E only need to know which TelCo put the call through to them so they can claim their part of the call charge. This is why call costs vary depending on where they originate: It's the number of TelCo's involved in making the connection and adding their own call charges that ramps up the costs.

The idea of fining the TelCo's, however, does hold merit: They pay the fine, then charge back to whoever passed the call on. This then can be passed back to the original caller as each TelCo will know who was calling the destination number...

The other option is to make it easy for the customer to have international, or number withheld, calls blocked at switch. It's possible, and available, if you know who to ask or what to ask for (I've been fighting BT to get this implemented on my line, but they keep telling me it can't be done even though I know people who they are doing so for...)

And yes, I also worked in TelCo's some years back.

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Anonymous Coward

Binning withheld numbers

The problem with binning withheld numbers is that old people are increasingly adviced to default block their number with the phone supplier, as a security measure against dodgy companies getting it and putting it on to marketing lists. I know this 'cos both my dad and gran now do this, which winds me up no end as I never know if it's them or some muppet from India trying to "fix my computer on behalf of Microsft"!

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Someone will mention asterisk

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Silver badge

I hope someone does. I'd love to know how to set such a thing up, chuck the landline and have cheapy-cheap VOIP calls.

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Happy

Why prat around with the god awful Asterisk?

Just get a basic ATA (analogue telephone adapter) and set it up to your chosen SIP provider. Heck a lot of broadband routers have ATA's built in.

Still probably need the landline unless you have a broadband only setup.

oh and the quality will be hit and miss, what with the public Internet having no QoS and all that.

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Treat the telecoms companies like an ISP spamming emails.

Too many nuisances, originating from a certain international telecoms company, and you list them in a public blacklist and UK telcos are required to block all calls from them until they clear up their act (i.e. until that international telco monitor their customers and at a MINIMUM demand identification details from large callers, limit call volumes, act on abuse complaints, etc.). Don't worry about the companies that are doing the calling - that's up to the foreign telco to act on and put out of business. After all, they are paying customers of that telco and subject to the same legal jurisdiction as the telco too. Just make the telcos block the entire source (if you don't know what cable that international call has come in on - well, you shouldn't be a bloody telco). When the international telcos can't call Britain, they will go through and expunge most spammers from their customers and/or enforce things like valid Caller-ID, etc. in order to get that facility back (or, at least, stop the spammers calling the UK so they don't lose access and carry on letting them spam everyone else, but who cares about that?).

Additionally, LOG ALL FECKING CALLS. Don't tell me you can't, because you bill me for them, itemise them every month, and if I'm being harassed BT are very happy to intercept my entire telephone line, take all calls, trace the harasser (Caller-ID or not) and report them to police. I know, because years ago someone from a caller-ID-withheld number was spamming my phone line so that it was just going off all the time for hours. Eventually I had BT intercept the line, they traced it, called the BANK that was faxing me private banking details thinking my home phone was one of their branches (and I didn't have a fax machine to hand or I'd have received that data myself) and had their faxes set to mad auto-redial. Even the number traced wasn't an incoming phone line, but they had customer details on hand and phoned through to the bank's data protection department to get the problem sorted.

If you log all the calls, and then ENFORCE Caller-ID (i.e. don't trust the caller to supply it), and then I get a dodgy phone call, then you can provide everyone with a number (e.g. the numeric equivalent of "SPAM" on the phone) and when I dial that you can have an automated system reel off the last X numbers that called, with times and dates, and let me press 1) to report unsolicited calls, 2) to report silent calls, 3) to report harassment, 4) to block that number forever. Just what is DIFFICULT about that for a telco? And, hell, why can't I just block ALL international calls except from country X (where my relatives live) at no cost? Because there is no business interest in the telcos allowing you to do so at the moment and that's the biggest problem.

OfCom is toothless, telcos are uninterested because they get paid to ferry spam back and forth. Fix those problems and the actual, technical and political problem is very easy to solve internationally (for UK customers at least). We can nearly make porn-blocking--at-your-ISP-by-default law, but we can't make it so that telcos are obliged to provide number-blocking services for free? It's also like the Royal Mail spam-con. You can tell them you don't want to receive unaddressed spam but you still end up with some of it via them no matter what, because they are getting paid to deliver it.

Personally, at home I don't answer the phone unless the Caller-ID comes up with someone I know (and I have an answering machine, so leave a message if it's that important, or my bank is calling or whatever). And my mobile phone, I google the numbers before answering and spam ones go into a "SPAM" contact that has a silent ringtone. BECAUSE THE DAMN TELCOS want me to pay more to let them do that for me.

Is it any wonder that people are moving onto things like Skype and abandoning traditional telephony? At least with Skype spam amounts only to "Do you wish to add gahdkjghakjfdhg@hgfsdjhg.com to your contact list?" which is no worse than my MSN account which has about 10 blocked addresses and has been running every day since Hotmail was still plain HTML.

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Megaphone

My simple suggestion

Have a '1414' number that you ring just after receiving any sort of nuisance call. (A bit like 1471) This goes through to an automated press 1 for silent, 2 for ignoring TPS, 3 for scam, 4 for personal harassment etc. The system knows your last caller ID so it soon collects "we have dozens of number 2s from number 1234567890" and at some threshold puts that number on a blacklist and demands an explanation and/or fine from telco and/or originator. Job done simply. The more it costs telcos the larger the fines.

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Re: My simple suggestion

Great idea!

Or - the phone co could arrange for a different ring pattern for overseas (and potentially annoying) calls - like the American single long rings instead of the UK double rings. At least we'd know before answering it, or choose to ignore it.

Or they could track calling numbers like spam emails - if they notice a lot of random calls from an overseas number it's obviously spam - block them. Not rocket science, is it?

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Silver badge

Do these calls bug you? Then what you need is a four year old boy called James (other boys names are available)

That's the method we employ, and it is very effective, sometimes he will ask them all manner of awkward questions.

If ofcock used small children to contact these companies I am sure they will adjust their business model.

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Works fine until the friends of Jimmy Savile call your home.

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Regulation is useless

Complaining is a waste of time. I have a call-blocking device now which is very effective.

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Alert

Re: Regulation is useless

But BT say this cannot be done, how did you make/purchase such a magical device that is impossible to make? (according to BT)

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Go

Re: Regulation is useless

My Mrs has set our answering machine to filter out any call that isn't whitelisted (i.e. in our list of known numbers) to go straight to answering machine whereupon a 12 year old (slight variant on the six year old) invites spammer to hang up now. Surprisingly, most of them do.

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Re: Regulation is useless

@Ragarath

BT told me they couldn't do it. I pointed out they were providing that very same service to other customers. Their excuse was 'Oh, they're on a different exchange'.

Yes, they can block the numbers. They *do* block the numbers at exchange. Getting them to admit and implement this, however, is harder than pulling hen's teeth.

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is it possible

to ask your phone company to simply drop any calls to you from outside the country, I can't imagine any situation where most of the people I know would legitimately need to recieve them.

then after the is it possible, is it free!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: is it possible

Yeah, but you just KNOW that any feature like that, that is worth something to us... will be charged for as an extra :(

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Silver badge

Re: is it possible

Blocking overseas calls sounds like a great idea. May also help promote employment in the UK by having their call centres in the UK.

Though they may end up just bouncing their India call centre via a UK exchange, but at least you have better comeback to get that UK number blocked and the UK company fined for breaking the don't call list.

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If I get a computer...

...I hang up. If I get a human, I waste their time for as long as I can. Strangely enough, I don't really get any nuisance calls. Maybe I am on a "Don't call this number, the guy is on to us" list?

(WARNING: Incoming F-bombs)

What I want stopped, ***NOW*** are these fuckers texting me about PPI. Seriously, fuck off.

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Re: If I get a computer...

Start forwarding them (with the number they came from) to your networks 'spam' number. I did this about half a dozen times, and the texts have actually dried up.

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Re: If I get a computer...

on my mobile I can 'block' numbers who text me, so all I do with these is, 'add to block list' delete and gone, I used to get several a day, I'm down to a few a month now, result.

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Re: If I get a computer...

If I have some time to spare I, too, just tag them along for as long as possible before informing them that I'm not interested and my sole purpose of talking to them was to waste their time.

They really love it when you do that to them and you usually come in for some extreme abuse which you record and pass on to the Plods. Plod isn't interested in nuisance calls. But they will (must, in fact) investigate threats.

For those txt messages. I just use the numbers to sign up to as much shite as I can manage.

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Anonymous Coward

make it possible for customers to bar individual calls.

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Anonymous Coward

How about something akin to a Usenet Death Penalty

If your network harbours scumbags and shows unwillingness or inability to do anything about it, your calls will be dropped at our network boundary.

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It would help if my caller id showed the international number calling me instead of just showing as "INTERNATIONAL" on my Panasonic phones. As I have an American girlfriend (whose phone always shows my number when I call her) I have no option but to answer the phone when said international appears on the phone.

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Silver badge

It would help if my caller id showed the international number calling me instead of just showing as "INTERNATIONAL" on my Panasonic phones.

It depends on how the call gets from your girlfriend to your house phone (i.e. what carriers)

At my office, I have both a BT and a Virgin Media number. I got a contact in America to call me on both numbers. BT gave me the american CLI, Virgin gave me nothing.

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What they did to Radio Caroline was ...

... make it illegal for UK companies to have business dealings (ie buy advertising) with them. Thus the UK advertising dried up and they ran out of money.

Now, if people are getting calls for <some UK company> where said UK company is getting round the rules by employing some Indian/Philippines/wherever contractor to do the ringing round - then fine the UK company. I can't imagine many outfits keeping up the marketing if the customer can't pay them for it.

That in effect is how the USA gets round the extra-territorial reach problem. They just make it so that anyone in the US is responsible for their overseas subsidiaries or contractors. At my last place we came under Sarbanes-Oxley because of this - and it was a right PITA.

The other thing that could be done would be to clamp down on telcos passing on unreliable CLI. If the foreign telco is shown to be supplying dodgy CLI then disable it altogether - there is a flag in the data stream for this. Better still, just cut off the foreign telco until they come into line. Harsh, but it doesn't seem that anything else will work.

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Real calls indistinguishable from spam

The phone or the telco can block calls without caller ID. However, this does not solve the problem, because there are legitimate calls without it too, and not just international or Skype calls. It seems that hospitals and banks have a policy of withholding this information. Banks seem to be very keen on mimicking phishers. If you have two parents with dementia or some other reason to expect calls from hospitals and social services then you have no choice but to answer all calls. So the other side of the coin is to overturn this misguided notion of "security" and require all non-residential callers to provide caller ID.

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