back to article BT installs phone 'spam filter', says it'll strain out mass cold-callers

BT has opened a free nuisance call screening service, which it estimates could junk 15 million cold calls - such as PPI and accident claims - to a voicemail box. The Call Protect service will use what it described as "huge computing power" to analyse large amounts of live data, said BT. The Register has asked for specifics on …

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Re: And BT wonder why WhatsApp became so popular.

"There's little that's new or innovative about this type of service."

Yes, there is. If a number is blocked or banned, no one gets any revenue. If the call is diverted to a blackhole voicemail system BT get the revenue. If the caller is on the BT network, BT get it all. If not, then BT get the termination fee. There's a cash incentive to complete the calls. There's no cash incentive to block them.

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Re: "huge computing power"

"a lot of calls are number withheld crap"

If you get a number-withheld and it's a marketing call from an identifiable company then the ICO _really_ want to hear from you.

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Re: "huge computing power"

"Of course we know who these people are - we kept the receipts !"

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Hmmm, I applaud the effort but what could possibly go wrong with broad filtering ?

We've all had those really important emails that seem to somehow end up in the spam folder, I was expecting a phone call three days ago............

I suppose it does have it's upside, now if I can manage to get my boss on the spam filter and blame it on BT :)

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Anonymous Coward

I've had some sub-continent based calls that appear on caller display to be from my area code. So, scenario : local number comes up on caller display, you answer it, it's an unwanted call. 1571, add it to the block list. However, the number was your doctor, dentist, work etc. You've blocked someone who might be important without realizing it.

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Anonymous Coward

"You've blocked someone who might be important without realizing it."

The vast majority of my cold calls are landline "international", "withheld", or an apparently random set of digits.

I once tried the "United dogs' home" response on an international caller - which confused an old friend who had decided to ring me direct rather than use Skype.

Unfortunately my doctor's practice uses "withheld" - as do local council departments.

If the landline cold call doesn't terminate itself with a dialling tone - then I usually put the phone to one side for half an hour or so. It is presumed that ties up one line to stop other people being called.

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RE:

"The vast majority of my cold calls are landline "international", "withheld", or an apparently random set of digits."

Don't confuse the calling number information you get to see and the calling number information that the terminating exchange has - your local exchange can (and probably will) request the entire calling number, even from overseas - calling line identification is blocked by the terminating exchange if it is told to for a specific call, not the one the call is originated from, which is why emergency services (and maybe your local pizza place) still get your phone number. Even though you think you have it blocked, and may even be paying for that feature, any terminating line can have a bit set to ignore the calling line number blocking request.

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"Unfortunately my doctor's practice uses "withheld" - as do local council departments."

They are not supposed to do that. Their systems are supposed to present their main contact number. You should complain to them.

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"Unfortunately my doctor's practice uses "withheld" - as do local council departments."

My doctor does too - and when they get the canned message that withheld numbers are not accepted they dial back with proper ID.

The ICO need to make a determination that businesses are NOT allowed to withhold caller ID (not just call centres) - and it needs to be the ICO, not OFCOM.

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Black Helicopters

Interesting development

I normally screen callers through my answering machine prior to picking up, but will give this a go instead. It will be interesting to see if those spoofed call numbers will still be blocked.

The latest scam call almost got me. Someone phoned claiming to be a BT engineer and there was a problem with my broadband speed. He wanted me to plug my router directly into the master socket. The call seemed legit in as much as he spoke English without a foreign accent and he wasn't asking for any financial details etc. However, something didn't feel right about the call so I hung up and did a 1471 and the number came back as a legitimate BT customer service number (after looking the number up on Google). Anyway, I phoned BT and after being passed around their Indian call centre was told that they had not contacted me and that the call had been made by someone pretending to be from BT! I don't know how the scam call would have unfolded, I can only speculate that he may have eventually tried to get me to download something (malicious) to my computer so he could analyse the "problem". Anyone else had this type of dodgy call and know what they are up to?

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Re: Interesting development

Given BT's success at keeping records, it's entirely possible the left hand don't know what the right hand is doing.

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Re: Interesting development

Considering the quality of internal communications in BT, I could still believe that they actually had tried to call you.

But it doesn't sound like something BT would do - actually monitoring your line speeds and calling you to troubleshoot if they fall off. They'll only trigger something if someone complains.

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Re: Interesting development

@ Dan 55, that is quite possible. At one address we moved to I contacted BT and asked them to transfer our number to the new address, but they said our new address wasn't on their system so didn't have a phone line. I pointed out the fact it had a modern-style BT master socket on the wall and I could see the wires going out of the wall and connecting to the telegraph pole on the street. No, the property didn't exist, was it a new build? No, it's around 100 years old. Sigh.

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Re: Interesting development

The solution there would be to find out the number currently on the line before calling them, one would hope with that information they might be able to find something.

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Alert

Re: Interesting development

A friend of mine went one better than that. He moved into a property that the local water authority insisted did not exist.

He got free water for five years. The fun ended when the water board replaced the main outside and the lads doing the job spotted that there was one more connection to it than their plans admitted to. They did attempt to bill him for the arrears, but he countered with a copy of the letter they'd sent to him, at his address[1], saying that the address didn't exist so they couldn't and wouldn't bill him.

[1] Warning: Upcoming paradox. Engage head explosion dampers before reading further.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interesting development

to be honest, I would NOT be surprised if the first call had been legit, and the BT call centre told you porkies, just to tell you something. With such a huge organization, I would be suprised if they were actually bothered to check at customer service what was really going on.

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Re: Interesting development

When I was a BT customer I used to insist on asking my own security question first. Knowing that the agent, genuine or not, never has access to my call records I always asked what was the last number I dialled. Their explanations as to why they couldn't answer my question were great fun. Then I just told them that if they couldn't prove who they were I wouldn't talk to them and hung up.

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Re: Interesting development

I contacted BT and asked them to transfer our number to the new address

Had sort of the opposite of that once when we moved house. The person buying our house contacted BT about a fortnight before the moving date to arrange to take over the line, and within a few hours of that phone call, we were cut off, just when we needed the phone the most. It wasn't that they just changed the number - could have been seen as a simple scheduling error - they actually cut us off.

No amount of ranting and raging to BT would get them to reinstate us, so we spent a fortnight calling people on our mobiles, and making sure they had the mobile numbers as first (and only) point of contact. We were offered one month rental for free as compensation and a complaint to the ombudsman resulted in (effectively) a "meh, take it or leave it".

Three days after the phone line was cut off, our ADSL service terminated too because (according to our ISP) they couldn't provide a service on a disconnected phone line. Email was via our ISP in those days, so no email for a fortnight either.

New house, new phone provider, new ISP. A fortnight of lost emails, and an extra line to add to our "we've moved" cards.

M.

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Re: Interesting development

"A friend of mine went one better than that. He moved into a property that the local water authority insisted did not exist."

I've got a similar one. Back in the 80s a friend of mine moved into a house where the gas had been disconnected long ago, but the meter was still there - unplugged and sitting on the floor of the garage.

After a few months she suddenly got a letter from British Gas asking to read the meter. She first ignored it. Then she got a more serious red-bordered one saying she would be disconnected if they didn't read the meter. After phoning them up to point out she wasn't connected to gas anyway, she got a third letter.

So she physically took the meter down to the Gas Board shop (remember them, kids?), plonked it down on the counter and said something along the lines of "There. You read it." causing no end of panic as they thought she'd physically disconnected the meter herself.

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Re: Interesting development

Reminds me of the time I moved into a rented house about 12 years ago (no longer there), and I needed a phone line (on call, needed dial-up from home and this was before the company had VPN over broadband available).

The house had an existing line installed, with a master socket (an old one, no removable faceplate, but still a BT431A socket).

The line was dead, and the landlord wasn't interested in getting it hooked up for me, but said that I could do what I wanted with it myself.

So I called BT on my mobile, to get the line reconnected, to be told the house doesn't have an existing line! (The house also wasn't a new build, about 100 years old).

Me "But it does, I can see it!", BT: "nope, doesn't have one now, and its never had one in the past.", Me: "But I can see the socket". BT "Nope".

So I gave in and went through the process of getting a new line.

Turned out, they had a special offer on at the time, which meant no installation cost for new installations. A re-connection at the time was normally something like half the price of a new install.

The BT engineer turned up, started putting in a newline from the cabinet end, before coming to the house, only turned up once the new line was outside the house. At which point he noticed the old line going through the wall by the front door, and once let in the house, could see the existing master socket on the other side of the hole (no cabling inside the house)!

"Hmm, that's odd, oh well", and duly ripped out the old copper wire and socket, few in the new wire through the pre-existing hole, and fitted a new master socket.

So their poor records basically saved me some money, cost them some, and got me a nice shinny new line and socket!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interesting development

I know of someone who has the same problem with the electricity supply, not sure whether they ever got it fixed, same thing I'm sorry sir you don't have a supply.

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Re: Interesting development

"the water board replaced the main outside and the lads doing the job spotted that there was one more connection to it than their plans admitted to."

We had problems on our electricity a few years ago. When the crew turned up to investigate the dodgy connection they found it wasn't connected to the supply at the bottom of a different pole than was shown on the plans. Both problems solved by replacing the corroded joint with a new one where it was shown on the plans.

Then the gas dug a hole just down the road to disconnect a pipe which they'd discovered (I'm not sure how) ran under someone's conservatory. They then discovered that (a) there were two lots of gas pipes just under the road surface where they only expected one, (b) one of them was flooded with water, (c) the pipes were steel & the working pipe had to be replaced and (d) the pipe running under the conservatory which they were about to disconnect wasn't a branch, it was actually the feed into the mains under our road.

A year or so later whilst I was working in the garden someone came wandering up the road asking questions about the gas supply. His company had taken over the maintenance but didn't have current drawings. Fortunately he probably know more about the system as he used to work on the system years ago.

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Re: Interesting development

"the gas had been disconnected long ago, but the meter was still there"

Did I ever post the one about the time my Dad helped a friend with some renovations? In the course of that they moved the meter but reconnected it the wrong way round. Gas meters will run backwards. After they discovered it there was a slight panic. The friend's family used as much gas as possible to try to get the meter at least back to the previous reading and a little beyond. They succeeded but the meter reader commented on how little gas they'd used.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interesting development

"Gas meters will run backwards. After they discovered it there was a slight panic."

Perhaps this was intentional. You know those schemes where people supply electricity from their own generators back to the electrical grid?

Maybe they figured out that people might like to do this with gas as well and have the meter run backwards for every cubic foot they donated.

Finally there'd be an upside to chronic flatulence.

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answer machine

I've always just let the machine screen the calls. It has the added benefit of recording actually useful messages. I'm all for BT blocking spam calls but I'm not sure about this unique technological breakthrough stuff, can't they just employ a guy to go through whocallsme and block the numbers people flag up as spam? I know their aim is to stop even the first call getting through and also to stop spammers hiding their number or number hopping I just don't have any faith they can do this.

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Re: answer machine

"can't they just employ a guy to go through whocallsme and block the numbers people flag up as spam?"

What do you think this "huge computing power" is doing?

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Re: answer machine

"huge computing power"

You mean Dennis, the work experience guy?

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Re: answer machine

Dennis the bloody hero, slayer of one of the scourges if modern life.

How's that for work experience?

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Re: answer machine

Same here, and then answer the phone if they start leaving a message and we know (or are at least wish to talk to them). Calls dropped a lot of time, even the 'international' ones.

Now if only it was as easy with spam texts on the mobile...where the text "STOP" to opt-out gives a warning that this might cost you charges - wtf!?

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Devil

Hmm...

I have trained most people at our hollowed out volcano to respond to computer scam calls by saying, "I'll just transfer you to our IT department", and then hanging up the phone.

Nobody ever rings back.

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Trollface

Re: Hmm...

My favourite goes as follows:-

Scammer:- "Scam scam scam scam scam?"

Me (Best 1930's BBC accent):- "I'm terribly sorry old chap, but I'm afraid I don't speak a word of English. Good day to you!" <Hangs up>

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Re: Hmm...

"I'm terribly sorry old chap, but I'm afraid I don't speak a word of English. Good day to you!"

I've used this one myself a fair few times, though rather than hanging up at the end, I like to switch to perfectly accented German, ask them to repeat, and on the rare chance that they can do so be ready to follow up with 'entschuldigung, ich spreche kein Deutsch; parle vous le francais?'

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmm...

"'entschuldigung, ich spreche kein Deutsch; parle vous le francais?'"

Even more unlikely is Swedish "Jag talar inte Engelska - talar du Svenska?"

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Re: Hmm...

Just don't try replying in Bengali or Hindi or they'll likely understand every word. ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

This is bound to be left over (redundant) computing power from GCHQ Monitoring, now security services are targeting encrypted messaging / other call/messaging forms.

And BT wrap it up as "doing good" for their customers, when for years they have ignored the problem, due to UK call revenue from such spamming activity.

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Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

This sounds like complaining about BT doing nothing about the problem, and now complaining that it is doing something about it.

Some people are never happy, and I suspect that you might be one of them.

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Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

"This sounds like complaining about BT doing nothing about the problem, and now complaining that it is doing something about it."

It does indeed. However a little voice in my head keeps saying "It's free now but for how long?".

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Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

If there's one thing worse than someone who complains when things go wrong and then when they go right, its someone who complains about people who complain about people who complain about... Erm, no hang on, ...complains about...

Am I complaining about myself?

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Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

"It's free now but for how long?"

To the residential consumer, free forever. However don't be surprised when we hear that BT start offering to whitelist companies for a nominal fee.

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Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

"Some people are never happy, and I suspect that you might be one of them."

I think that many such people can be happy, but only when they are having a really good moan.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Free as part of Line Rental? Thought not.

If BT wait 15 years after the horse has bolted, most customers have either moved away from land line calls or put up with umteen misery, how can you expect to please anyone? Just a thought.

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Anonymous Coward

After having had enough of the accident texts, I filled a few of the web forms in.

John Doe, Michael Rodent and Roland Rodent all had accidents well over a year ago (if not 2 years). One of them broke every bone in their body, and then some.

Yet it seems it's still worth their while to claim compo on them, if the calls they receive are to be believed,

Sometimes, a "just check that name you asked for again" produces a hangup. But rarely. Usually they just carry on with the script, after a few seconds of confusion :-)

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There is only one problem with phone numbers getting added to an blacklist - what if a legitimate company acquires a new number and it is on a blacklist, and it prevents said company from phoning other companies from placing orders and the such? (all legitimate company business, not cold-calling or trying to sell you some stuff you don't want...)

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Anonymous Coward

The same thing happens with IP address allocations which have been previously been provided to spammers / scammers and then blacklisted to hell and back. What happens is that the company getting the blacklisted number complains to the provider and either gets another set of hopefully clean ones, or they learn they need to pay more and go somewhere more reputable. Meanwhile the provider learns the lesson that having scammers / spammers as customers isn't such great idea after all, both financially and in terms of reputation.

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Anonymous Coward

There is only one problem with phone numbers getting added to an blacklist

Yes, if they were using a blacklist. I don't get the impression that it's blacklist based at all - maybe they monitor trunks for high volumes of outgoing calls with a certain percentage of very short ones where the recipients tell them to go to hell (or when it involves robocalling).

That would indeed be hard to beat via Jo Telco, so I suspect the problem's origin will merely move to a telco abroad or a VoIP supplier with UK numbers instead, which then get randomised. Blacklists don't work because they seem to change called IDs at will.

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> Blacklists don't work because they seem to change called IDs at will.

That's because it's a piece of piss to spoof CLI as it's just a field set in headers..

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Anonymous Coward

"That's because it's a piece of piss to spoof CLI as it's just a field set in headers.."

Presumably only a UK phone can generate a CLI number itself? BT should not allow a CLI to be different from its allocated number unless pre-registered.

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> Presumably only a UK phone can generate a CLI number itself? BT should not allow a CLI to be different from its allocated number unless pre-registered.

On the first part, you can configure asterisk servers and the like to do it, I'm told, and with VoIP it's almost trivial.

In the UK, Ofcom publish rules much like you surmise on how to use CLI, but it is possible to work around them by using an out of country service as it then becomes an issue for how trusted is the relationship between the two organisations. But there are legitimate usages of an out of country service spoofing an in country phone number - e.g. off-shored call centres regularly do this.

I'm sure more can be done with this network-to-network authentication of CLI information, and I wouldn't be surprised if standards have been written on the topic - but I'm not in that field...

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I'm sure more can be done with this network-to-network authentication of CLI information, and I wouldn't be surprised if standards have been written on the topic - but I'm not in that field...

I understand that there is sufficient information within the data packets to verify that the billing data isn't getting spoofed, but have no idea how feasible it would be to cross-check that with the CLI data.

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