Cold call plague: is it even legal?

Our community is increasingly complaining about getting repeated unsolicited phone calls, occurring at any time of day.

The first step in this battle against nuisance calls is to know your rights, so here’s our guide on cold calling to help you sort fact from fiction.

What’s cold calling?

is cold calling illegal

Cold calling is the activity of calling someone to make a business solicitation, without being asked by the receiver to do so.  This technique has considerably increased with the development of telecommunication technologies, making everyone having access to a telephone a potential target. A 2017 study estimates that 9 out of 10 landlines in the U.K. are bombarded with cold calls, even though half of them have subscribed to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Nuisance calls also affect 8 out of 10 mobile phones. British consumers approximately received 3.9 billion nuisance phone calls and texts the past year.

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that deals with consumers’ complaints, a great number of nuisance calls and texts is about solar panels, Payment Protection Insurance (PPI)/accident claims, boilers, debt, banking operations and lifestyle surveys.

Though cold calling is originally the tool of telemarketing companies wishing to attract new customers, this method is also used by scammers. For this reason, remember than an annoying unsolicited call can also be a dangerous one!

Is cold calling legal?

Cold calling is not prohibited per se. Although, the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 has established a number of restrictions to protect the public.

Telemarketing companies are allowed to call prospects any landlines and mobile phones that are not registered to TPS. In some countries, the timing of such calls is regulated to limit the potential disturbance in individuals’ personal life. For instance, it is forbidden for telemarketers in the USA to call before 8 am and after 9 pm. There is no such rule established in the UK to protect their consumers, so companies can call you any time of day. The company must always identify itself and provide a legitimate number to caller ID systems, so the receiver can call back if desired. If asked, the company must be able to give a real contact address or a freephone number.

There are more restrictions regulating robocalls (calls made by an automated dialing system). Automated calls are allowed only if you gave explicit consent to a particular company to be contacted this way. Each call must include your name, contact address of freephone number.  Additionally, the company number must be displayed to the receiver.

When is cold calling illegal?

Unsolicited automated calls

automatic dialer

An automated calling system is a software or program configured to automatically dial many numbers from a database and leave a pre-recorded message once a call has been answered. Using automated dialing system for direct marketing is prohibited by The 2003 Regulations, unless the company has been specially authorised by the receiver of the call and follows the rules previously detailed.

Cold calls to a TPS registered number

The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is a register of domestic phone numbers whose users have expressed their wish to not receive unsolicited sales and marketing calls. Companies cannot legally cold call a phone number that is TPS enlisted.

Cold calls to an individual who asked to not be contacted

A legal cold call becomes illegal if a company keeps calling you after you clearly asked them to stop. Such violation of the law can be reported to the Information Commissioner’s office who has the power to impose important fines.

How do I know if a cold call is a scam?

Many cold calls are not made by genuine companies! To better identify potential scam calls, we have compiled the most common scam calls and messages in a comprehensive guide available on our main page. For more details, read it here.

Are the authorities taking actions?

police against spam calls

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, stated that “nuisance calls are a blight on society and we are determined to stamp them out”. Steve Wood, Deputy Commissioner at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) insists on the importance of working on an evolution of the law to better protect the public against businesses that deliberately disrupt people with abusive cold calls.

A certain number of measures have already been set these past few years to better regulate cold calling and take actions against wrongdoers, such as increased fines.

Concerned by the recent increase of nuisance calls, the government has elaborated new measures to punish more effectively abusive companies. Right now, only the companies themselves are liable for fined up to £500,000. Yet several business directors attempted to avoid important penalties by declaring bankruptcy, and then opening the business later under another name. The new measures aim to prevent this by making company bosses personally responsible in case their firm practices illegal cold calling.

Ofcom and ICO are now working more closely to fight against nuisance calls. You can make a difference by systematically reporting your experiences with nuisance calls, either scam or abusive telemarketing calls in our website, warning other users like you.

How to protect yourself from cold calling?   

• Register for The Telephone Preference Service (TPS)

Registration to TPS is free of charge and can help you screen a certain number of nuisance sales and marketing calls. Telemarketing companies are not allowed to call TPS registered numbers. If they do so, they are breaking the law and can be fined.

Note that TPS does not protect its users against scam calls and text messages.

For more details, read our full article “What is the TPS and does it actually work in the UK?”

• Register for The Fundraising Preference Service (FPS)

Registration for FPS is also free of charge and is designed to help you regulate the calls you are getting from selected charities

• Stay away from sales call lists

ignoring calls is a good option

As previously detailed, it is illegal for companies to call you for sales purposes if you previously informed them not to. When an option about direct marketing is mentioned on a website for example, make sure to opt out. Systematically ask cold callers to remove you from their call list and mention that you will send a written request if they persist. Keeping cold calling you after you took these actions is illegal, so this should discourage a fair amount of companies to call again.

• Ignore unknown numbers

Checking an unknown number before picking up is advised to avoid falling for abusive sales calls or scams. Unknownphone.com offers a large and growing database of phone numbers in the U.K., United States and Australia to help you figure out the identity of an unknown caller. Genuine callers will generally leave a message, marketing call centers and scammers will not.

• Use Call Blocker, our official app

Stay protected from cold calls by downloading CallBlocker, Unknownphone.com’s official call blocking app! Let our extended database help you block annoying and dangerous numbers in your iPhone or Android.

• Report nuisance calls

Join the fight against nuisance calls by reporting them! If your number is TPS registered and a sales company yet contacted you, you can directly report it to them.  

Silent and abandoned calls should be reported to Ofcom.

If you experience automated calls, contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.

If you are a victim of abusive or threatening phone calls, call your phone company immediately as well as your local police station if you feel a real danger.  

Please, report and share your experience towards cold calls with Unknownphone.com! Our team takes your reports very seriously and is immensely grateful for your contribution to the phone database, allowing us to help a greater number of people every day!

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