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Gov Proposes Tougher UK Penalties for Nuisance Calls and Texts

Thursday, September 9th, 2021 (10:30 pm) - Score 1,200
smartphone with incoming call from unknown person

The UK Government has today announced that their planned data reform, which covers a multitude of areas (many of which are outside our focus), will also set out plans to impose tougher penalties and fines for nuisance calls and text (SMS) messages. But it’s unclear how much impact this will actually have.

Last year the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) received a total of 103,733 complaints about nuisance calls and nuisance text messages (i.e. a year-on-year decrease of 20%), while Ofcom received 25,342 complaints about silent and abandoned calls, which is down 9% compared with last year (here).

NOTE: Nuisance calls include marketing calls (live and recorded), silent calls and abandoned calls. Scam calls also come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, from people claiming that your computer has been infected with viruses, to those pretending to represent your bank, car insurance companies, HMRC, NHS etc.

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.

The Government has now proposed to take action by imposing “tougher penalties and fines for nuisance calls and text messages,” which will be overseen by the ICO and builds on government action in recent years that has included holding individual directors liable for nuisance calls made by their respective companies (2017 change). More recently, it has also banned cold calls from pension providers and claims management firms, unless individuals have expressly agreed to be contacted

Oliver Dowden, UK Digital Secretary, said:

“Data is one of the most important resources in the world and we want our laws to be based on common sense, not box-ticking.

Now that we have left the EU, we have the freedom to create a new world-leading data regime that unleashes the power of data across the economy and society.

These reforms will keep people’s data safe and secure, while ushering in a new golden age of growth and innovation right across the UK, as we build back better from the pandemic.”

The related consultation on all this isn’t due to be published until 9am tomorrow, but we have been given a sneak peek. Mostly it deals with changes to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR), which among other things already prohibits organisations that undertake direct marketing from contacting individuals by phone if they are registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), or have previously informed the company that they do not wish to be contacted.

Sadly, the consultation is currently only seeking industry feedback and does not yet propose any specific changes in this area, other than the aforementioned, if still quite vague, reference to tougher penalties and fines for nuisance calls and texts messages. The detail of this is important because most such calls and texts now originate from outside the UK, which may dampen the impact of any new penalties.

Despite this, the consultation does still offer a few clues about the direction of travel. For example, at present the ICO can only take action on calls which are “received” and connected, but the Government are also examining whether the ICO could take action against organisations for the number of unsolicited direct marketing calls that are “sent“. This would be complemented by a new “duty to report“, which would require comms providers to report when they have identified “suspicious traffic” (calling, texts etc.) transiting their networks. We suspect that might be a tall order for smaller players.

A voluntary charter for telecommunications providers is also in development, which will set out what actions they can take to prevent fraud. Earlier this year, the Home Secretary chaired the Economic Crime Strategic Board, which agreed a framework to develop a Fraud Action Plan that will include prevention, education, effective enforcement and regulatory reforms across several industries, including the telecommunications sector.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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14 Responses
  1. Mike says:

    Most of these calls seem to be coming from outside the UK using local VOIP numbers.

  2. Just a thought says:

    We need to move to a verifiable loop.
    Some of which would be quite simple. We already have vast databases to hold every website address as a IP lookup in the form of DNS so the scale is possible.

    When a call is about to be routed with a CLID, the telecom company can do a simple lookup does this number exist? If not place a reverse test call. If Engaged or Ring (multiple line) then continue to next routing stage. If Unobtainable, block call. Blocks 60% of spam IP calls from ‘AmazunPrime’ and ‘Your Credit Card issuer’
    Next stage needs to authenticate, the call must have been placed from somewhere telecom companies can’t generally operate without some form of licence or government agreement, so you require them to add an originator ID to the CLID and so on through each routing intermediary.
    Now it is traceable.
    Lastly the DNS type lookup can use each of the CLIDs to see if there is an allowed match. E.g. if the phone number says it came from a particular country, does the routing string either con_rim that or does that countries ‘DNS’ hold a record to say the number is a valid alias allowing companies to register cases where the CLID is not the actual phone, from registered call centres etc.
    Lastly allow special cases, such as government agencies, health providers etc to register special codes against their actual numbers, in that way instead of ‘withheld’ you could call 1471 etc and be told ‘An approved government agency’. Finally if an individual dials 141 first to withhold a number or is ex directory a one way encoding value would be added to allow the number to be identified as genuine to the telecoms companies for routing but would be a non-number in terms of display and change before the customer display to mean verified but witheld. None of this is intended to be bullet proof and relies on trusting telecoms companies, however it should eliminate 90%+ of the rogue calls. And make prosecution of offenders a lot easier

  3. Shaukat says:

    What I’ve done in the past is cross reference a nuisance callers “caller id” with the ofcom number allocation database of who is assigned that allocation and have contacted the operator, with the times and dates of calls, alongside the phone number and content.

    In many instances the operator has managed to isolate that numbers traffic and match it to the information provided to them, and blocked it until they got reassurances from the user that it’s not Breaching terms of useage (i.e not being used for malicious purposes) and as mentioned many numbers are from VoIP allocations and in some instances spoofed, which I am told can also be blocked.

    1. Chris your local energy saving adviser says:

      Shaukat: a lot of them are presenting CLI from area code+prefix which are not even used…

    2. Tony says:

      Or they spoof a legitimate number, leading to that person being bombarded with angry callbacks for something they have no knowledge of.

  4. Buggerlugz says:

    Stopping all overseas aid to India would be a good start.

    1. Regorimabitbackward says:

      Is it me or did I actually see an increase in this sort of problem once BT moved a lot of it’s customer support offices abroad and others followed.I imagine customer data would fetch a pretty price in certain quarters so in effect the telecoms industry has created this problem in the first case.So the question is at what point does this problem require some action and who orders it I suspect that telecoms companies would not want to spend too much resource solving a problem they helped create.

    2. The Facts says:

      With diallers you just start at the beginning (0113) and add 1 each time.

  5. MilesT says:

    I feel the UK should just move to the German model, i.e. all cold calls are unlawful, unless there is an existing relationship (opt in, with an ability to opt out to sales calls but allow contact for ongoing servicing of a relationship).

    The impact to GDP would be minimal; business could rely more on traditional advertising which would help fund news reporting organisations of all kinds to maintain a functioning democracy.

    This would need reinforcement with stronger technical validations for calls originating from abroad, and a very simple way to report abusive calls (e.g. hang up and dial a special code to alert your telecoms provider to make a report into a central database). A few exceptions to be permitted from trusted providers (health, emergency, government).

  6. Randy says:

    how are they going to catch all the scammers from India? Even the Indian cyberpolice can’t be bothered to investigate/stop it.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      That’s because the guys running these scam call centres driving around in Lamborgini’s pay them off.

  7. Anthony Goodman says:

    The simple solution is, block all inbound calls originating from outside of the UK.

    And I don’t care if BT or Barclays want to use Indian call centres. How many times do they phone you, hardly ever. So this wouldn’t be an issue.

    Just block every phone in the UK from receiving calls from outside of the UK and you would get peace on everyones phoneline overnight.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Good solution Anthony! I’d back it!

  8. Blockface says:

    All BT’s public facing call centers are in the UK, have been for sometime. I’d rather block racists.

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