Cold calls: how to stop unwanted phone calls

Call centresRelentless sales calls on your home phone are irritating and for some people, a source of anxiety. Why are you getting unwanted calls and how can you put a stop to unwanted cold calls?

Companies using phony, official sounding names are bombarding people with pushy sales calls – even when they have registered to block cold-calls.
Panorama investigated the murky practice and secretly filmed a company involved in accident compensation claims, where employees manning the phones claimed to be from fake organisations such as the 'Industrial Hearing Clinic'.

The programme also reported that households who are signed up to the Telephone Preference Service were still being contacted by salespeople.
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The TPS is a central register for companies using cold-call techniques to cross check numbers, so in theory no-one on the register should be contacted.

The law states that if you have told a company you don't want to be contacted, or if you have registered with the TPS, no business can call you (including charities and voluntary organisations). This comes under Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

So why are you still receiving calls?
It may be that you have already agreed for some companies to contact you, for example if you ticked a box giving consent for a company to send you marketing material. If you're unhappy about being contacted, ask to be removed from their calls list.

But some companies are simply flouting the rules and don't bother paying for access to the TPS register.

Scammers, as you would expect, clearly don't care about the law and are harder to trace and block. They will continuously change numbers or use an anonymous number to remain undetected.

Are all nuisance calls a scam?
Not in all cases - nuisance calls might come from genuine companies. Big businesses have been investigated for making silent calls – where a bunch of numbers are dialled automatically but there aren't enough operators to handle the calls, so there's only silence when you answer the phone.

In April, HomeServe was fined £750,000 by Ofcom for silent and abandoned calls to potential customers. Four years ago Barclaycard was fined £50,000 - the previous maximum penalty - for similar reasons. In autumn 2010 the maximum fine for silent calls was increased to £2 million.

However, many calls are also fraudulent. One specific con involves a caller pretending to be from Microsoft who wants to help fix a problem on your computer. They don't actually know what type of computer you have (and anyone who uses an Apple computer will already know such a call is dodgy).

After convincing you to download software, which gives the caller remote access to your computer, the caller "fixes" the fictional problems and charges a fee.

A victim of this scam who spoke out on Panorama was bullied into paying £120 and then had to pay a genuine company to make her computer secure again.

Companies who breach the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations can now be fined up to £500,000 by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

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Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.

To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.

At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.

It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.

No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.

Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.

Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.

While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.

However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.

However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.

Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.

Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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Companies pretending to be the TPS
The TPS has warned people to steer clear of dodgy callers claiming to be from its organisation, but who then try to charge you for registering. The TPS is a free service.

What can you do?
Once you have registered with the TPS (allow around 28 days for it to take effect), watch out for any small print or boxes to tick on documents that confirm you don't want to be contacted further.

If the calls are still coming in and marketers ignore requests to be taken off their contacts list, note the date and time and ask for the name and number of the company. Report whatever information you have to the TPS or the ICO, which investigate complaints. Otherwise feel free to hang up the phone.

The ICO introduced an online form for people to report any concerns in March this year and is using it to help trace those companies breaking the law.

You can also contact your telephone company, which might offer an 'anonymous call rejection' service, blocking calls from withheld numbers. However, be aware that you could end up blocking calls from numbers you do want to hear from, including public services such as the police force, hospitals and fire brigades.

There may also be a monthly fee for using this service. However, it's still worth contacting your phone provider, as they can offer advice and may be able to trace the number.

More useful details can be found on the Ofcom website, along with the following contact numbers for your telephone company:

Ofcom Advisory Team – 0300 123 3333
BT Nuisance Call Advice Line – 0800 661 441
Carphone Warehouse/Talk Talk – 0870 444 1820
Kingston Communications – 01482 602 555
Post Office – 0845 600 3210
Sky – 08442 414 141
Tiscali – 0871 222 3311
Tesco – 0845 300 7080
Virgin Media's Sensitive Information Bureau – 0800 953 3333
Telephone Preference Service – 0845 0700707

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Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship.

Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so.

To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension.

In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.

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