PERHAPS you saw the headlines today: nearly half of us in Yorkshire are receiving between five and 20 nuisance phone calls a week. Worse, nearly one in seven have lost money to phone scams in the last year.
It made a good scare story, not least because it had been put about by a firm that sells nuisance call blocking devices.
But it was not without foundation; hoax calls are an epidemic in Britain, and the somewhat toothless regulator has failed miserably to stop it.
The most frequent scams concern PFI refunds, Microsoft computer viruses, bank account problems, noise rebates and lottery prizes. But more common still are callers who just annoy you with relentless sales pitches, or who don’t even come on the line when you’ve gone to the trouble of picking it up.
Spending money on a call blocker should be a last resort but in the face of such provocation has become the first recourse for many. At least the best of these devices provide instant relief compared to the drawn-out process of registering your number on the official “do not call” list.
Nevertheless, registration is worth the trouble. You can check if your number is already on the list run by the Telephone Preference Service by visiting www.tpsonline.org.uk. The TPS is operated by the direct marketing industry itself, which has a vested interest in making unsolicited contact with you, so it’s hardly surprising that its effectiveness is limited. But it is against the law for UK companies to call you if you’re on the list.
Of course, non-UK companies can do as they please - which is why many prefer the belt-and-braces approach of the call blocker. These can take the form of a new phone with inbuilt security, or a device which sits between your existing handset and the phone line.
Either way, the principle is the same: persistent calls from given numbers or a range of numbers can be rejected before your phone rings, and unidentified callers (those who withhold their number) can be blocked at source. Be careful with this feature, though: many legitimate office switchboards - your own office, perhaps - also hide their numbers.
Dedicated devices such as the CPR Call Blocker can be had for £40 online and on the high street. This model is pre-programmed with 200 rogue numbers and you can detonate other unwanted callers by pressing a “block now” button, assuming you’re in the same room when the phone rings. The £28 Panasonic KX-TGH220EB is less versatile but it is a complete cordless phone which can replace or sit alongside your existing handsets.
If you consider - and who could blame you? - that the crooks have won if you have to spend money to shut them up, here is one free way to get your own back. The next time you’re asked to enter your phone number on a form for no good reason, use this one: 0333 888 88 888. If anyone calls it, they get this message: “TrueCall38 is handling my calls. I prefer not to be contacted by phone, so please contact me via my email address. Goodbye.”