Don’t you just hate cold calls? It’s a rare day when the media does not report on some new fraud being hawked by cold callers, usually in a foreign country so you can’t block their calls without blocking all overseas calls – and it might be Great-Aunt Mildred in Spain, rather than a scuzzy fraudster. Plus, they always call just as you’re sitting down to dinner or have reached a crucial plot moment in “Casualty” or “’Enders”. Well, you will be glad to hear that help is at hand. If you’re lucky, you will soon be receiving a call from a nice person who will explain that they are from the Telephone Preference Service, and that they have just introduced a new, premium service. For a modest one-off fee, you can enrol with their new scheme to block calls from international call centres, thus protecting yourself from those nasty scammers. Can you see where this is leading?
Of course there really is a Telephone Preference Service here in the UK – a real, genuine, government-approved agency running a central opt-out register. If you sign up with them – and registration is entirely free, gratis and for nothing, for both individuals and corporate entities – it becomes an offence for anyone to make a direct marketing call to your registered number. It says so in the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. The fly in the ointment is that it applies only to – or, more realistically, can only be enforced against – callers in the UK (and perhaps EU). So if you’re tired of being offered marvellous investment opportunities or passionate lifelong commitment and romance by a lovely chap in Africa or Asia, there’s still little you can do about it except hang up on the blighter.
Sadly, the confusion is working to the advantage of the criminals. Victims – often elderly – are giving out their bank details to pay the one-off fee, and then seeing monthly direct debits being sucked out of their accounts. (This may well come back to bite the banks, as the victims to a man – and there were 493 reports of this fraud last year – have said that they did not receive written confirmation of any direct debit, as is required by law.) And if they call the number they were originally contacted from, it’s out of service – oh, the irony.