Factsheet: Unsolicited telephone calls Spring 2013
The UK’s telecommunications market is regulated by the independent Office of Communications (Ofcom). A good deal of advice about dealing with problem phone calls is available on their website: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/telecoms/privacy
1 What can be done to stop unwanted “live” direct marketing calls being made to my phone?
2 If my phone number is registered with TPS, and I receive an unsolicited “live” marketing call, who do I complain to?
3 Who enforces the system? 4 What kinds of calls can the TPS help to reduce 5 What is being done to improve the TPS?
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6 What is being done about silent and abandoned calls?
7 What is being done about recorded message/ automated calls?
What about calls from non-UK companies?
6 9 Why do some calls not include CLI? 10 Is there a difference between marketing calls and market research calls? 11 What if a market research call turns into a direct marketing call, but my number is not registered with the TPS?
12 What if a market research call turns into a direct marketing call, and my number is registered with the TPS?
13 Why is my ex-directory number receiving unsolicited calls?
14 What can I do if I believe the call is a scam?
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1. What can be done to stop “live” unwanted direct marketing calls being made to my phone? Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 2003, unsolicited marketing telephone calls are not allowed to be made to a consumer who has either: previously notified the caller that they do not wish to receive such calls, or has been registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) for at least 28 days. This is a free service for consumers. Companies making “live” direct marketing calls from within the UK - or from outside the UK on behalf of UK companies - are legally required not to call a number that has registered on the TPS list, unless prior consent is obtained. They are required to comply with UK regulations, by screening their call lists against the TPS, before making such calls to a UK telephone number. To stop receiving unsolicited marketing calls, you should register with the TPS. They can be contacted at: Telephone Preference Service, DMA House, 70 Margaret Street, London, W1M 8SS Tel: (for registration) 0845 070 0707 Fax: 020 7323 4226 E-mail: email@example.com Or online at www.tpsonline.org.uk
2. If my phone number is registered with the TPS, and I receive an unsolicited “live” marketing call, who do I complain to?
If you have received a live telesales call, you can complain directly to the TPS in the first instance. Contact: Telephone Preference Service, DMA House, 70 Margaret Street, London, W1M 8SS Tel: (for complaints) 020 7291 3320 Fax: 020 7323 4226 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org If you continue to receive live telesales calls from an organisation despite complaining to the TPS, you can make a complaint under the PECR to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) through their online reporting tool/helpline at: http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/marketing.aspx Page | 2
You can also complain to the ICO using their ‘Privacy and Electronic Communications complaint form’ and send it by e-mail to email@example.com or by post to: First Contact Team Information Commissioner's Office Wycliffe House Water Lane Wilmslow SK9 5AF
3. Who enforces the system? As mentioned earlier, if a consumer’s registration with the TPS has been ignored, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can take action through the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 2003. It considers complaints about breaches and is able to issue a monetary penalty of up to £500,000 for the most serious breaches of the PECR. The TPS and the ICO both operate independently from Government. The TPS is operated by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) under contract on behalf of the independent telecommunications regulator Ofcom. The powers of the ICO in the PECR are drawn from the Data Protection Act 1998. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is responsible for the Data Protection Act. Further information is available at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/freedom-and-rights/data-sharing.htm http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/taking_action/dp_pecr.aspx http://www.ico.gov.uk/enforcement.aspx
4. What kinds of calls can the TPS help to reduce “Live” unsolicited marketing calls are the only calls, which are eliminated by registering with the TPS.
5. What is being done to improve the TPS? DCMS Minister Ed Vaizey met with the ICO, Ofcom and TPS in July 2012 and also had a further meeting with ICO and Ofcom in January 2013. In discussions he has been pressing for further improvements to be made, particularly in terms of more effective enforcement action against companies that call numbers registered with the TPS. ICO increased the resources devoted to enforcement of the PECR and on 28 November 2012 served monetary penalties totalling Page | 3
£440,000 to two illegal marketers who were responsible for distributing millions of spam texts. ICO also published on its website a list of the most complained about companies that make calls to TPS registered consumer: http://www.ico.gov.uk/enforcement/action/calls.aspx If the companies fail to remedy their actions, then they could face further enforcement action. On 20 March, the ICO served a monetary penalty of £90,000 to a company, which was making thousands of unsolicited marketing calls to consumers. Also, ICO is currently drafting Notices of Intent to issue monetary penalties to two other organisations for making unsolicited marketing calls. Subject to their responses, these could result in significant monetary penalties in the near future: http://www.ico.gov.uk/enforcement.aspx Also, as part of the Department’s Communications Review, we sought views from consumers and business about concerns in relation to nuisance calls, texts and emails. We are carefully considering responses and will be making known our views through the White Paper, which may follow shortly.
6. What is being done about silent and abandoned calls? Silent and abandoned calls occur when companies use automated calling systems for efficiency savings, which are also known as predictive diallers that automatically dial telephone numbers. When the recipient answers the call, the dialler transfers the call to an available agent. If no agent is available, then the call is disconnected and a recorded information message is played, which results in the consumer receiving an abandoned call. If no recorded information message is played then the abandoned call will be a silent call. For these kind of calls, Ofcom requires that: 1) Calls which you do not answer must ring for a minimum of 15 seconds before being terminated. 2) When you answer such calls: a very brief recorded information message must start playing no later than two seconds after the telephone has been picked up, or within two seconds of the call being answered; and the message must contain at least the following information: o the identity of the company on whose behalf the call was made; o details of a number you can call back on if you wish to decline to receive further marketing calls from them. (This number would be a ”Special Services‟ (080 – no charge) or a ”Special Services basic rate‟ (0845 only) or a ”Geographic Number‟ (01/02) or a ”UK wide Number at a geographic rate‟ (03); and
the recorded message should not include any marketing content, nor be used as an opportunity for marketing to you.
Complaints should be made to Ofcom and details of how to do so are on their website: https://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/webflow/silent-calls/
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Ofcom can issue fines up to £2million for breaches of their persistent misuse powers. Further information is on their website:
7. What is being done about recorded message/automated calls? Companies that make recorded/ automated calls to sell or promote their product or business have to comply with Regulation 19 (1) and (2) of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 2003, which requires prior consent of the consumer. Complaints about this aspect can be made to: Information Commissioner's Office Wycliffe House Water Lane Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF Tel: 0303 123 1113 or 01625 545745 http://www.ico.gov.uk Further details are available from the ICO website: http://www.ico.gov.uk/enforcement/action/calls.aspx http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public/topic_specific_guides/marketing/calls.aspx
8. What about calls from non-UK companies? Most unsolicited marketing calls received in the UK are made on behalf of UKregistered companies. However, calls received from a non-UK company marketing services or products are not covered by the TPS, as they have no link with the UK. In some circumstances there may be an ICO equivalent body that you can complain to, and in some cases ICO may be able to refer complaints across. There is a problem in dealing with callers from overseas, as they are usually routed through different countries’ telecommunications networks and systems. The caller line identification (CLI) data associated with these calls, used to recognise that a number has been withheld, is often lost by the time the call reaches the consumer. Therefore, it is not always possible for such calls to be prevented. However, there are other steps that consumers can take to block unsolicited calls from getting through. Most telecom service providers offer a range of services that can help to reduce the need to answer an unsolicited marketing call from abroad. These include:
‘Caller Line Identification Display’ (CLI), enables you to choose to ignore calls that withhold their number.
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‘Choose to Refuse’, enables you to block numbers by specifying numbers that you do not want to receive calls from. ‘Automatic Call Rejection’, blocks incoming calls that withhold their number (although that might include some calls that you may want to receive).
A range of other devices are also commercially available that can help to block unwanted calls. Also, consumers can ask callers to remove their details from the caller’s list, although this could prove difficult because of the number of companies you might have to approach individually.
9. Why do some calls not include CLI when made from overseas? There is a problem in dealing with callers from overseas, as they are usually routed through different countries’ networks and systems. The CLI data associated with these calls, which is used to recognise that a number has been withheld, is often lost by the time the call reaches the consumer.
10. Is there a difference between marketing and market research calls? Yes, a market research call takes place when an organisation calls an individual and asks for their participation in a survey, but does not try to influence them to buy a product or service. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) 2003 does not cover market research calls, which means that companies conducting these types of calls are allowed to call numbers, regardless of whether they are TPS registered. Market research calls are not covered by the PECR because genuine market research is not ‘marketing’ as no goods, services, aims or ideals are promoted. Therefore, they are regarded as a legitimate research tool that many businesses rely on to improve their services and provide greater choice to consumers. However, the Market Research Society, of which most market research agents are members, has in place guidelines and a binding code of conduct that all agents carrying out market research calls should adhere to. The Code is designed to support all those engaged in market, social or opinion research to conduct their research in a professional and ethical manner at all times and to reassure the general public and other interested parties of this. Those making genuine market research calls are obliged to start their call by saying their name, contracted company, purpose of the survey and the approximate length of the survey. All personal data collected during this period should be handled in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. This will involve, in particular, obtaining and processing data fairly. Also, often genuine market research organisations will not be interested in specific detail about the individual’s identity, but will instead be satisfied with information about which categories (for example, age brackets and employment categories) the individual falls within. Customers who are unhappy about the way an agent has conducted themselves during research can complain to the Market Research Society (MRS), which looks into all breaches and takes any necessary actions. Details Page | 6
of how to make a complaint to the MRS can be found at: http://www.mrs.org.uk/standards/complain.htm
If the call is not for direct marketing purposes but is causing you concern, then you may also wish to contact Citizens Advice (see 11 below for contact details).
11. What if a market research call turns into a direct marketing call, but my number is not registered with the TPS? If a call begins with a survey, but then goes on to promote a specific company’s goods or services, that call is a marketing call for the purposes of the PECR. If a “live” marketing call is received to a number that is not registered with the TPS, then there is no breach of the PECR, unless the individual has previously notified the organisation that they do not wish to receive marketing calls from them. ICO would recommend that they register with the TPS, or if they do not wish to do this, that they write to the organisation that made the call and advise them not to call again (keeping a copy for reference). In such circumstances anyone not registered with the TPS may wish to consider registering with the TPS. If a market research telephone call at any time turns into a marketing call promoting a sale of goods or services, then it would be considered to be of a marketing nature and covered by the TPS, unless prior consent is obtained.
12. What if a market research call turns into a direct marketing call, and my number is registered with the TPS? If an unsolicited telephone call at any time turns into one promoting a sale of goods or services, then it would be considered to be of a marketing nature and covered by the TPS, unless prior consent has been obtained. In such circumstances, anyone registered with the TPS can complain initially to TPS and ultimately the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Their contact details for further information is as follows: The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF tel: 0303 123 1113 fax: 01625 524 510 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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13. Why is my ex-directory number receiving unsolicited calls?
“Ex-directory” means not being included in the online or paper directories. Calls are usually made by companies using a computerised calling device known as a predictive dialler or Automatic Calling Equipment. This involves a machine that dials a telephone number, from eg,lists, data bases or sometimes at random, and automatically connects to a sales agent, which gives efficiency savings to the company. Therefore, having an ex-directory telephone number may not prevent the number from being dialled. Ex-directory simply means that the customer’s details are not passed to a third party, unless in exceptional circumstances, such as for law enforcement purposes by the telecoms operator.
14. What can I do if I believe the call is a scam? Telephone scams come in a number of forms, sometimes where someone is trying to make you think that you have won a very large sum of money. Many scams rely on you giving information to the scammer that you usually keep secret. To protect yourself, always be wary about giving personal information to anyone you do not know (or have not checked out), or to a firm or person you are unsure of – if in any do not provide information. Complaints about a trader should be directed in the first instance to Citizens Advice or Citizens Advice Scotland. Their contact details are as follows: Tel: 08454 04 05 06 (lines open 09.00 - 17.00 Monday to Friday) Website: www.adviceguide.org.uk and: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/contact_us.htm Also, a scam or potential scam may be reported to the National Fraud Authority at: www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Citizens Advice is the publicly-funded voice of consumers, championing their needs and empowering them to make the right choices for themselves. It provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. It is responsible for providing the phone and web-based advice service. Information collected by the Citizens Advice consumer service is shared with the OFT and other enforcement partners, including Local Authority Trading Standards Services. Where a scam is operated from overseas, the matter can be referred by Trading Standards to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading’s international division. They look to work with overseas enforcers to take action to stop the operation of scams. In addition they look to block or disrupt the scammer’s routes to consumers in Great Britain.
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For information on DCMS policy areas, visit our website: http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/telecommunications_and_online/7761.aspx
Or contact: Department for Culture Media and Sport Telephone: 020 7211 6000 E-mail: email@example.com
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