Cold Call Scams: The Law's Changing – But What Can You Do Meanwhile?


We've all had them: endless unexpected calls and texts promising you the world. Help with your PPI claim? Holiday prize draw? Instant cash at eye-watering interest rates? It seems everyone has something wonderful to offer you – whether you asked for it or not.

Angry Phonecall

Upsetting – And Often Criminal

But for thousands of people such nuisance calls can be genuinely upsetting. Often these will lead to fraud, the unscrupulous senders obtaining sensitive financial information from unwitting recipients, gleefully hacking into their bank accounts and credit cards then cleaning them out.

So what if you see these unsolicited, potentially criminal 'cold calls' for what they really are? What if you're not interested in even the rare genuine inquiry that's simply a pain in the neck?

It's true many such contacts claim to carry an 'opt out' mechanism. However, its use is likely to do little more than to confirm your contact details to the sender, who'll then sell your phone number or address on to similar businesses while they continue to pester you with more of the same.

Government Action From April

Now at last the government appears to be doing something about the scammers and spammers.

Following over 175,000 complaints to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in 2014, ministers have announced that these 'cowboy' firms could soon be facing fines of up to £500,000.

Ed Vaizey, the Minister for the Digital Economy, said that following an exhaustive public consultation, the threshold that defines 'substantial damage or distress' will be removed.

This means that from 6 April 2015, the legal obligation on the ICO to prove that a nuisance call was genuinely upsetting will be lifted.

Present Law Toothless Against Dozens Of Cold Callers

At present the Information Commissioner can act against firms which bend direct marketing regulations, the office insisting that penalties totalling £815,000 have been collected against 9 companies over the last 3 years.

However, the ICO has had no power to go after dozens of other businesses churning out scam emails, texts and calls by the thousand every day.

Mr Vaizey added that it was hoped measures would be introduced to hold to account senior executives for spamming calls and texts from their firms.

Going After The Cowboys

The minister said that if the ICO pursues a company, it has to demonstrate that it caused the consumer serious harm or distress.

"It's a very high test to pass… we want to lower that test," Mr Vaizey said, adding that Britain's "legitimate direct marketing industry" should be considered in any new legislation.

"We want to go after the cowboys," he stressed. "The Information Commissioner knows who a lot of these companies are, but it's very difficult to pass that threshold. Now it will be a lot easier."

Until the law takes effect, what can you do about scam calls?
  • Assuming a human being is making the cold call and not a recording, ask firmly for your number to be deleted from the firm's database. Don't get upset with callers; they're just ordinary call-centre staff who are trained to stay unmoved – even when you're fuming.
  • As soon as you hang up, dial 1471 to try and identify the caller's number (but bear in mind the numbers are often withheld).
  • If you can put up with the potential inconvenience, find out if your phone company can make you ex-directory.
  • and are very useful free sites by which you can sometimes find out who's called you.
  • NEVER give away personal details, whether you're asked simply for your address and telephone number or – especially – your bank account numbers, sort codes and passwords.
  • NEVER return unfamiliar voicemail messages or texts that might be scams, or press the supposed 'opt-out' link in a text or email.
  • ABOVE ALL, BE VIGILANT: some fraudsters hijack telephone lines, claiming to be from the recipient's bank. But when the customer calls their bank to check, without realising it they speak to another scammer. These so-called 'vishing' attacks rely on the scammer remaining on the line while the subject believes they've hung up.

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