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ICO and Ofcom See Recent UK Surge in Nuisance and Scam Calls

Tuesday, Mar 23rd, 2021 (11:34 am) - Score 6,016

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom have today published an update to their joint plan for tackling nuisance and scam calls, which comes after they both reported a surge in complaints from September/October to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

At present most of the major UK home broadband ISPs and mobile network operators have already developed technical measures to tackle Nuisance Calls, but these aren’t always 100% effective and there are still plenty of operators that take almost no action against such calls.

NOTE: In 2020, the ICO received a total of 103,733 complaints about nuisance calls and nuisance text messages (i.e. a year-on-year decrease of 20%). Meanwhile Ofcom received 25,342 complaints about silent and abandoned calls, which is down 9% compared with last year.

Nuisance calls generally include marketing calls (live and recorded), silent calls and abandoned calls. Meanwhile, scam calls come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, from people claiming that your broadband router has been infected with viruses, to those pretending to represent your bank, car insurance companies, HMRC, COVID-19 Test and Trace etc.

The good news is that complaints about such calls have fallen in 2020 (mostly due to COVID-19 lockdowns across the world), but the bad news is they started to surge toward the end of the year. Ofcom saw an 83% increase in the number of complaints between October and December 2020 compared with the same months in 2019, while the ICO saw a 27% rise in complaints between September and December 2020.

The New Action Plan for 2021/22

Generally, the ICO takes the lead on tackling live and recorded marketing calls and nuisance text messages and emails. They are responsible for taking enforcement action against organisations that breach the relevant rules. Meanwhile, Ofcom leads on silent and abandoned calls and works collaboratively with the ICO, telecoms companies and other organisations, providing research and technical assistance as well as advice to consumers.

Since 2013 both regulators have had an action plan for tackling this, which is reviewed every year, and today they’ve issued the latest update.

Plan for 2021

The ICO and Ofcom believe the approaches taken to tackling nuisance calls in 2020 have reduced some of the negative effects of the nuisance calls and scams that have occurred during the pandemic, by reacting quickly in a scenario that is totally unprecedented.

We maintained our pre-existing measures to prevent harm and we supported telecoms companies in their efforts to react to the demands of the pandemic. We plan to maintain our approach and continue to develop our work.

Our focus for 2021 will include the following:

➤ protecting people from nuisance calls and scams;

➤ taking targeted action against people or companies that are not following our rules;

➤ tackling and raising awareness of coronavirus nuisance calls and scams;

➤ identifying opportunities to deter and punish organisations and people responsible for nuisance calls and scams by working together with other regulators and enforcement agencies; and

➤ sharing intelligence with others, including international partners and enforcement agencies with responsibility for tackling scams and fraud.

In addition, Ofcom will also be:

➤ implementing a specific scams strategy to tackle telephony-based scams;

➤ continuing to support the work of Stop Scams UK; and

➤ working with industry and cross sector to improve how they disrupt and prevent scam and nuisance calls.

The full report includes a bit more detail on some of the regulator’s areas of work, although it’s a sad truth that many people have now had to become accustomed to a significant proportion of the calls they receive coming from scammers and marketing people.

Clamping down on this has tended to have some impact but, much like email SPAM, often the only way to completely prevent it is not to use a phone at all and that simply isn’t an option for everybody.

Ofcom also publishes advice for people on how to protect yourself from nuisance calls and messages, and who to complain to if you do receive them (here).


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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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22 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Michael V says:

    We get spam calls on a weekly basis on the home phone.
    Mostly from someone claiming to be from Openreach but they really aren’t.
    Amazon are doing the rounds this week saying I’ve been charged £400 & my iPhone is dispatched!

  2. Avatar photo Ig Og says:

    Give people unlimited calls, this is what happens.

  3. Avatar photo Trev says:

    Got loads from people pretending to be from ‘Microsoft’, had them remotely connect to a sandbox machine and wasted an hour of their time whilst they ‘fixed’ it. Also had some from ‘O2’, swearing obscenties at them seemed to do the trick, haven’t had any for a few weeks now.

  4. Avatar photo JP says:

    Scamming will continue while companies send ‘our’ information overseas for customer service.

    Will companies choose security over money however, America is in the grips of the worst scamming crisis (lottery scams) and it originates from US corporates taking advantage of poor wages and the English speaking people in Jamaica, the information is extracted from databases and handed to “scamming cartels” who then take advantage of peoples greed and lust for free stuff.

    In the UK the scams are generally lead by information stolen from ISP’s call centres and then people are targeted using scare tactics or as mentioned above putting common company usage and brand names together.

    It won’t end until ‘unsolicited communications’ are halted, but as discussed recently with someone that won’t happen as people are unlikely to accept communications request from something like a debt collector.

    The past 18 months I have managed to have no unsolicited communications or any form of scamming attempts, but then the last 6 months when I gave my mobile number to a few friends/family and companies they started up.

    Best thing in my opinion is to drop the old phone number system and start using services where communications have to be approved by end users.

  5. Avatar photo Ray Woodward says:

    Sheesh! Do those still occur?

    Can’t say I’ve had a single one (since I activated Sky’s Talk Shield when it first came out).

    Seems to me its time telephone service providers offered free daisy chain connected call blockers to customers as a matter of course …

  6. Avatar photo Joseph says:

    I keep getting a lady going “Hello, hello!” and then if I don’t say anything starts to yammer on about if i’ve been in a car accident. Obviously its a pre recorded message because she’ll quite happily talk to herself.

    On occasion they wait to hear a reply so I just tell them where to stick it, eventually they hang up.

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      You’re best telling them “Yes I was in a car accident, I died in it.” They really don’t like that approach!

    2. Avatar photo Anna says:

      I told them I wanted help as I was hurt – they called me back with a Manager I said I had a Peugeot 108 stuck up my arse – after I gave them a shed load of fake details” and wasted 30 mins of their time 🙂

      Stupid thickos!

  7. Avatar photo barney says:

    We are being bombarded with calls from Domestic and General (or at least they report to be from them) stating my washing machine is out of warranty. Each time it’s a different year of purchase and manufacturer and we know it’s a scam. I just tell them I don’t have a washing machine as my wife washes the clothes in the local stream.

    Once a scammer called back and told me to go “fluck myself”. Nice.

    1. Avatar photo JmJohnson says:

      Unfortunately Domestic and General are doing the rounds.
      They are a 3rd party warranty seller upselling most household appliance and service warranties… even Sky.
      Every year we have them phone regarding our Sky, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher and a couple of TVs.
      They hate my responses…
      Sky – well I have Sky Q so the kit is rented. If it breaks and isn’t fixed then I’ll cancel my contract.
      Electrical device – the law states that all electrical goods have a 2 year manufacturer warranty.
      TV’s – well they cost this much and you want X pm… after 2 years I could upgrade for a little more than what you’d charge over 2 years.
      But they are persistent and will try to change your mind even harder.
      Then I lead into my profession (Head of IT at a national company) and talk about life expectancy, mean rate of failure etc.
      They then push into “accidental” damage cover at which point I mention contents insurance.
      It’s always in that order as if they are working from a script.

  8. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Stopping all foreign aid might be a good starting point.

    1. Avatar photo Citizen9 says:

      That would make absolutely no difference to scam calls, I don’t see the connection. I gess if you are xenophobic then this is the solution to everything!

  9. Avatar photo Anna says:

    Fine Three! I made my number up from a database and then put myself on Three – I started to get spam calls!

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The problem with phone numbers Anna is they’re just logically sequenced numbers, so an automated system can easily guess the directory range and will try millions of them over time. The same thing happens with emails, except for those spam bots can used leaked contact lists too, but they will also try guessing addresses across domains via mass automation. So, making a unique number or email isn’t much protection.

  10. Avatar photo TrueFibre says:

    There is nothing worse then scammers phoning you about absolutely rubbish trying to get as much money of you. That’s why I bought a CPR Call Blocker but I am concerned about people that don’t have the knowledge to set it up probably. I mean I have it setup to block withheld unknown numbers International Prefix 00 Calls International Out of Area Calls and VoIP Rogue Calls.

    With the codes that you need to set it up I understand them it but what about people who live alone.

    1. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      I replaced my CPR call blocker with a phone which blocks calls from unknown numbers unless they state their name. Scammers just ring off. Problem solved.

  11. Avatar photo Belly Monster says:

    Over the past week I have had a bunch or irate phone calls demanding to know who I am, my mobile number was being “used” to make calls from the “National Crime Agency” and these fools believed them. Suppose the scam callersmove on and use another random mobile number every few days as not had any calls today.

    Was waiting for a phone call from myself which would have been hilarious

    1. Avatar photo ComicBookAssasin says:

      Lol you will! Try pressing 1 to get put through, my names going to be John smith next time apparently police are coming to my address to lock me up. Ohhhh Nooo! Nothing like a world pandemic to start scavengers praying on the unsuspecting. PS Belly Monster seems like they have different mobile numbers as every number I’ve blocked there is another one a month or so later.

  12. Avatar photo MrD says:

    What needs to happen is that providers need to start blocking inbound connections from suppliers that enable all of these scam phone calls. If you dig deep you will find that many times that many of the scammers are using the same service providers to get the calls out there.
    The problem is that your telephone provider gets the call termination fee – they are incentivized to not stop you receiving calls.
    Virgin only added CLI for my area in the past couple of years (it was not technically feasible before).
    Blocking should also be something that should be free, just like CLI, but let it be set by the consumer at the carrier level.
    VoIP Suppliers who enable all of the scam’s should be blocked. I have several VoIP inbound numbers and they never get hit with scam calls, scammers tend to focus on large suppliers so yay for me I guess.
    While there are a few Anti-Scam type of apps/call boxes users can get, it’s highly annoying just how much personal data is sent to those companies to be saved (and searched!). Google “privacyinternational 2997” for an example of what I mean. I also know that a few world leaders have been found (their phones at least) in those types of databases. So to me those blockers are worse in the long run than the benefit.
    Last week they (Virgen Meadah Support) were calling me every half hour due to my router issues.
    The most irritating thing out of all of this is that these scammers have better quality VoIP lines, and sometimes English too lol, than most of the UK businesses I have phoned during Cov19!

  13. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    If you want a laugh, take a look at the YouTube series “This is Lenny”. It’s a robot which wastes scammers’ time by replying with recorded messages. Some scammers give up after a few minutes but some persist for ages before realising they are not talking to a person!

    1. Avatar photo Jack says:

      Honestly my trusty friend Lenny has been amazing when I made the switch to VoIP in September 2020 and took my Virgin number along that we’ve had since 1998. Was getting calls every 30 minutes usually around 8am which is annoying as we love lie ins but VoIP has been our saviour (and Lenny). Got a script on a raspberry pi pbx running that checks the caller id then decides whether to block and send to lenny or forward through to my home phone. Point is they start to then remove your number from their lists and eventually a few months go by and you’ll probably get 1 call every 2 weeks max like we have. +1 for mentioning Lenny.

  14. Avatar photo Citizen9 says:

    Every couple of days I am getting a call from a random number in the USA. This is to my mobile AND my work number!

    What can be done about this? My phone company does not have a way I can block calls from specified country codes.

Comments are closed

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