Forced to screen calls? How to fight cold callers

Almost three quarters of us are forced to screen calls to avoid cold callers. Is there a better way?

Updated: 
Mobile phone service concept - Woman on the phone with question marks on a blackboard.

We're not safe in our own homes, because at all times of the day and night, companies are bombarding us with cold calls. And whether we are harassed by PPI claim companies, those saying they can write our debts off, or people trying to get us to buy something we neither want or need, it's driving almost 70% of people to start screening calls.

Research from commercial debt company, the Debt Advisory Centre, found that 69% of people (and 78% of those aged 24-35) won't pick up the phone until they see who is calling. Of those who screen calls, 52% never answer numbers that they don't recognise.

Some people have been forced to take even more drastic measures to banish companies that will not leave them alone. One in five have barred certain numbers from their phones, while 28% of people instantly reject any call from any 0800 or 0870 number.

What can you do?

If you are being pestered by cold callers, you may not have to resort to screening all your calls forever. There's a five step process that should help dramatically reduce the number of calls you get.

1. Register with the Telephone Preference Service

You can do this for free online or by calling 0845 070 0707. Once you have signed up - and it has had 28 days to come into effect - you have officially opted out of receiving any cold calls. There are two exceptions to this: where you have given a company specific permission to call, or when they are doing market research. Everyone else should steer well clear.

Unfortunately, recent research found that even after signing up, two thirds of people still got unwanted calls, so you'll need to take the rest of the steps too.

2. Contact the organisation direct

If you are regularly getting calls from the same organisation, ask for the name of the business and their phone number. You can then call and arrange for your name to be removed from their database. This will ensure that those you have accidentally given permission to call will stop ringing.

3. Block the number

If you do both of these things, and you are still getting calls from a specific number, it makes sense to block it. This is simple from a mobile, but to get a landline to block the number you will need to convince them that the caller is a real nuisance. If they are reluctant to block a number, you can buy a handset that does it for you, or a blocking gadget that you attach to your phone.

4. Make a complaint

If you still receive unwanted calls, then those who are ringing are breaking the law, so it's worth reporting them to the Information Commissioner's Office on 0303 123 1113. Before you call, make a note of the name of the company, and when they made the calls. If the calls you get are silent, then instead of the ICO, you'll need Ofcom on 0300 123 3333.

5. Double-check any forms

Once you have rid yourself of cold callers, you need to avoid accidentally setting up more callers. It means you'll need to check when replying to any company that the small print doesn't give them permission to call or sell your contact details on (pre-ticked boxes online and on emails are particularly likely to catch you out).

The exception

However, while eliminating unwanted cold calls is usually a wise way to reduce the stress in your life, there is an exception: when those calls are from people chasing debt. The research found that for 8% of people the main reason for screening calls was to avoid speaking to people wanting payment. Among those aged 25-34 this rose to 16%.

Ian Williams, a spokesman for DAC, explains that this is not a good idea. he says: "It is very common for people with problem debt to avoid answering the phone. Those with a number of lenders trying to contact them often receive multiple calls a day adding to the stress they are already experiencing trying to manage their finances. They may feel that avoiding calls brings a temporary relief but creditors will keep on ringing and try to contact them in different ways too."

If you are being chased by creditors, then rather than trying to run away, it's essential to face up to the problem before it gets bigger. If you don't want to speak to people you owe money to, it's worth speaking to the Money Advice Service, Citizens Advice, or Step Change - which are all non-profit-making organisations that can help. There are also companies which offer commercial debt services, but it's always worth starting with a charity for free advice and assistance.

One you have approached an organisation, they will contact lenders for you, so that the unwanted debt collection calls will come to a welcome end.

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