How tech is making nuisance calls inescapable
I got a call this morning from a number in Liverpool. I wasn’t expecting one, but it didn’t look suspicious and was relatively close to our Manchester office.
On the end of the line, the voice of a woman hurriedly explained where she was calling from and asked me about a car accident.
By this point the story should be familiar, so I did what we all do: I remained silent, expecting the fake conversation to carry on without me. But it didn’t.
She asked me again - and when I asked where she was calling from, she replied 'I'm sorry?'
I’ll admit that it took me longer than it should to realise the back-and-forth was all part of an elaborate robocall. There was no one on the line but a 'robocaller' complete with advanced voice recognition. I was embarrassed - but I’m not alone.
An Ofcom survey conducted last year suggests 81 per cent of the UK has received a nuisance call, and 2017 figures suggested that a Brit receives 8.4 every four weeks.
New tech has allowed ‘nuisance calls’ to evolve into a more effective scam, and a loophole means that there is nothing OFCOM, the Information Commissioner's Office or government can do about it.
In the US the problem of the robocall has reached critical mass. The problem is so great that its Federal Trade Commission predicts 2019 will be the year these type of calls outpace authentic human phone calls.
Where once these schemes worked by dialling numbers in sequence, stabbing in the dark with a pre-recorded call, today the operation is far more elaborate.
The scam’s profitability has given the operators the power to invest in buying users' location data, often acquired from free apps, which sell users' live location.
This allows the scammers to ‘spoof’ a phone number, complete with the local area code, no matter their actual location.
Once on the call a convincing pre-recorded dialogue harnesses voice recognition to conduct conversations with its victims, collect more data and complete the scam.
Silent call scams, which initially operate with the same technology, call numbers with the sole intent of compiling a list of people willing to pick up the phone.
A list of victims' numbers is then sold on to other scammers, perpetuating the problem.
The UK's ICO has said that an organisation must have your consent if it wants to make live marketing calls to you about claiming back PPI, personal injury claims and claims about sickness whilst you were on holiday.
In an effort to curb the problem, the threshold at which the ICO is allowed to act has been lowered and they now have the power to fine companies that break these rules up to £500,000.
But schemes run from overseas are outside of the authority of the UK regulators and law, which means that despite the ICO’s increased powers to stop nuisance calls, nothing can be done about scams operated from abroad.
Ofcom suggests signing up to the Telephone Preference Service, a central ‘opt out’ service for cold calls which makes it a legal requirement that all UK organisations acquire consent before calling.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however: Ofcom and the ICO are now working together, sharing intelligence with others, including international partners, and enforcement agencies with responsibility for tackling scams and fraud.