Unwanted sales calls, whether they’re made by a human or a robot, have become part of daily life. But why do we get so many? And what can we do about it? I asked Andy Curry, head of investigations at the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces good practice in handling personal data such as telephone numbers.
I always had a bit of an issue with talking on the phone, because #millennial, but with nuisance calls being so prevalent, I don’t answer at all now. Am I right in thinking the number has shot up?
A few years ago they were massively high but during the pandemic they hit the floor. Even the scammers were self-isolating. Now, we’re seeing a return to normality.
When does a direct marketing call become a nuisance call?
Unlawful marketing calls are nuisance calls. If you get an SMS about an accident and they haven’t asked you for your consent to receive it, that’s unlawful. We can take action on that. If you’re signed up to the Telephone Preference Service, which is the national “do not call” register, we can also take action.
I often wonder if I accidentally gave permission, so it’s actually my fault. Although feeling guilty about literally everything is my party trick. What can I say? I grew up with religion.
This is part of our advice to people: be careful about who you are handing your telephone number out to. People don’t pay much attention to terms and conditions, which will usually give you some indication. On the other hand, you will get the real rogue operators randomly dialling numbers, or using software to do it.
Be careful who you hand your number out to? Oh Andy, where were you when I was dating? Talk me through the process. I’m sitting at home, I get a call, a robot voice tells me I’ve had an accident, when I know the only accident was me answering the phone, I report this to the ICO, then what?
We have the power to fine organisations up to £500,000, and we can also issue enforcement notices that compel people to follow the law. So the first thing to do is to tell us about it. If you are on the Telephone Preference Service, we can say: “Coco is registered on TPS, you called her, where’s the permission from Coco to do that?”
Why do people do this? Surely there isn’t lots of money to be made this way?
The technology to do it is cheap. We actioned a search warrant on a guy we’d located who had been making thousands, if not millions, of calls. We knocked on the door thinking, here we go, and the guy’s basically been sitting there in his underpants with a laptop, eating KFC in a small service office. He was just pumping out this stuff through his laptop.
Am I right in thinking that the number of people no longer answering their phones could be a major societal problem? I just imagine GP surgeries never getting their calls answered …
You’re spot on. We took action on a business whose calls were jamming the telephone line for an unmanned level crossing in Scotland – pedestrians and drivers needed to call to check if it was safe to cross. These calls really can have significant, real-world impact on people.