Dealing with unwanted telephone calls

Unsolicited telephone calls or ‘cold calls’ are irritating at best and, in the worst cases, can have devastating effects on the lives of people who fall victim to scam callers.

Knowing who is calling

It is often the case that unexpected calls are from people who are unknown to us who are conducting surveys, trying to sell us goods and services we do not want or even committing fraud in order to try and defraud us. Knowing who might be on the other end of the telephone can help you to be prepared for how to deal with the caller and even decide whether or not to answer the call.

  • If your telephone has a digital display screen, you can ask your call provider to set up ‘Caller Identification’ on your line*. When a call is incoming, the screen will display the caller’s number or will identify it as ‘Withheld’, ‘International’ or ‘Unknown’. Seeing what type of number is calling can help you to decide whether to answer it or not
  • If you have Caller Identification, you can programme your telephone with the names and numbers of your trusted contacts so that it will display their name and even use a particular ring tone when they call, which makes it even easier to know who is trying to contact you
  • Your call provider may also be able to block withheld numbers from coming through on your line*. This feature will prevent all calls from withheld numbers from getting through. Some withheld calls are genuine, but once such callers know you cannot receive withheld numbers they will contact you by other means
  • Make use of an answerphone or answer service (such as ‘1571’ which is available through most call providers*) and leave unwanted or unrecognised calls to go to the answerphone. Genuine callers will leave you a message, but most cold callers and scammers will not bother to do so. You can listen to any messages in your own time and decide whether or not you want to respond
  • You could ask your trusted contacts to adopt a system of letting the telephone ring two or three times before hanging up, waiting a few seconds and then calling you straight back. This system may help you to be more certain that calls are genuine

Dealing with cold callers

If you do answer the telephone to a cold caller, remember that you did not invite them to contact you, that you are in control of your own telephone and that you can end the call at any time by simply hanging up. Genuine callers will try another way of contacting you and cold callers and scammers will simply move on to the next number on their list. It is important to remember the following when engaging with cold callers:

  • Never give out any personal information to cold callers when they ask for it. This includes your name, address, date of birth, details about your health or medication and any information about your bank accounts
  • Never agree to give any money to anyone who has cold called you
  • Always tallk to a trusted family member, friend or support worker before acting on any requests for money, placing an order for any goods or agreeing to have any work done
  • Never agree to anyone visiting your house as the result of a cold call
  • You might find it helpful to imagine that the cold caller is standing in the room with a bag over their head – you probably wouldn’t give them the time of day would you?

Stopping unwanted telephone calls

There are a number of steps you can take to significantly reduce or stop the number of unwanted calls you receive:

  • If you feel confident to, you can ask callers to remove your details from their system; genuine businesses should act on your request and stop calling you
  • If you have the patience to listen to automated calls using robotic voices, wait until the end of their message and you should be given an opportunity to ‘opt out’ of being contacted by the company by pressing a specified number on your handset. Listen carefully to the message though to make sure you press the correct number as you may be charged for selecting other options
  • Registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) will prevent UK based cold callers from contacting you, although it will not stop calls from overseas. Go to The Telephone Preference Service website or telephone 0345 070 0707 for more information
  • Purchasing a call blocking telephone, such as one of the BT Call Guardian models, (such as the BT 8600 or BT Décor 2600), or installing a separate call blocker from an approved company, such as trueCall, will give you a range of call blocking options. These range from blocking withheld numbers to only permitting specified trusted callers to get through to you. However, you must be very wary of call blocking companies who cold call you offering their services
  • BT customers can activate Call Protect*, a service designed to reduce nuisance calls
  • Sky Talk customers can activate Sky Talk Shield. This is a free service that screens every call received on your landline and gives you the choice of whether to accept a call or not
  • Changing your telephone number* is the most reliable method of stopping unwanted calls if you are being specifically targeted by scam callers or receive an excessive number of cold calls. If you change your telephone number, make sure that your new number is made ex-directory
  • If you change your telephone number it is very important to remember that you must not give your new number to anyone other than people by whom you are happy to be contacted