With an estimated three billion marketing calls and messages received every year, Panorama exposes how some firms are getting round the regulations designed to protect consumers.
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Annoyed by nuisance sales calls and texts? Join the club.
What did the companies, do what gives the right to call me out of
the blue? So are millions of others. Things that are unwanted, unneeded,
unrequested. It is anen vaigs. go over cover to investigate the
secrets of the call centre industry. He is treating the customers with
contempt. The only thing he is interested in is spinning a yarn.
We reveal the darker side. I am not begging you to do this. I
will net gone on my knees and say please. I can move on to another
client and make money. They never left a stone unturned. Wherever I
had money, they were able to grab We get an incredible 3 billion
marketing call as year. It is a nightmare. It is an
invasion of your privacy. I have had as many as five a day.
It is a type of harassment, isn't it? Welcome to Panorama's call
centre with a twist. Instead of making cold calls, we are talking
to people who have been plagued by them.
Helping you with a claim after an accident... The other one is the
solar panels. I get loads of calls for that.
It is all about selling you something over the phone. From
windows to wine, to property, to pay day loans, you name it, they
will try to sell it. The problem is that many of us find this type of
call to be unwanted and intrusive. It seems that no matter how many
times you say you don't want to be called, many of us are given no
choice. Meet Tony Clark. He's ex- directory, he signed up to
to a scheme that should block most cold calls. Inspite of that Tony
says he gets up to five a day. I can be having a good day, the
phone will go. It is one of these callers. You think, "Why? I really
don't need it." I don't want it, thank you, goodbye. Then another
one comes an another one. Where you started off having a really good
day, it will turn it around and it ruins the day for you.
One particular firm won't seem to leave Tony alone. They deal in
compensation claims for industrial deafness.
They're convinced that Tony should sue his employer. What they don't
know is that he has worked for himself for 35 years.
They say that they have my information from the Industrial
Workers' Register. Now, I've been online and looked
for it, there ain't no such thing, apparently. Because they told me it
was available to be seen in any public library, fortunately, I have
a friend who is a librarian, I had a chat with her, no, it doesn't
exist. It is not there. So, who is behind it? We have
discovered that the calls are made by a company based in Bury, outside
of mar, called Central Claims Group. On their website they say that they
specialise in accident and compensation claims. They point out
that they employ a motivated and friendly staff to help you.
I would like to know how they know about me? How they got my details?
We went under cover to find out. The first question, where do
Central Claims Group staff say that they are calling from? The
Industrial Hearing Clinic? The Industrial Hearing Centre? We heard
others saying that they were calling from the Industrial
Workers' Office. So why not give If we don't know who is cold
calling us we can't complain about them. It is simple, but it is
against industry rules. Those rules also say that the
companies should cross-check databases to ensure that people who
have asked not to be called are left in peace.
But take a look at what passed for a database in Central Claims Group
when we were there, that's right, it is the phone book. They are just
ripping pages out and calling numbers at random. Today, they have
reached the letter E. So much for a database.
The person on the other end of the So what happens when someone asks
They are not just tearing up the phone book, they're tearing up the
rule book. It doesn't exactly seem like best practise.
We showed our footage to Mark Weston, a lawyer that specialises
in data handling and commercial law. The overall impression you get from
the company is that there are no measures in place to protect the
people that they are calling? seems to be a blatant disregard for
the law. You have to give the name of where are calling from. He is
not doing that. He is telling a lie, inducing people to stay online.
They are looking to make money by telling the lie, it is a fraud. It
institutes the fraud act of 2006. So, CCG are driving coach and
horses over a coach load of laws? It is driving a submarine thorough
it. CCG have said that they are taking this into their hands. They
have said that they have commenced disciplinary proceedings,
strengthened management controls and informed all employees that
using the ordinary telephone directory or introducing themselves
as anything other than than Central Claims Group, with ill, if proved,
be regarded as grows misconduct. So, Central Claims Group are sorry, but
we wanted to see what happens if you go along with the process after
the initial cold call. Well, they will invite you to attend a hearing
clinic. We sent someone along to one they had arranged in a hotel in
Bolton. After a hearing test, he was
introdoused to one of several lawyers present, working for Leo
Abse and Cohen. Central Claims Group are paid for
finding them potential clients. But cold calling is against
solicitors' professional guidelines. The Solicitors' Regulation
Authority told us that its members should not obtain business through
cold calls or use third parties to do so on their behalf.
The lawyer carefully explained how their no h win, no-fee arrangement
worked, but he was less certain about what Central Claims Group
So, this person from the solicitor's firm says that he's a
bit suspicious of what the call centre tells people to get them
here to the clinic. Is it acceptable? It should be ringing
alarm bells. Solicitors are bound by rules, one of the things that
the solicitors have to do is to have referral arrangements with
reputable companies and to mon they are how the arrangements are put in
place and carried out. At the hearing clinic, the six
people we spoke to all said that they had been cold called. It
Now here he seems to know that the claims group have made the phone
calls, unsolicited and the Solicitors' Regulation Authority
who police the lawyers would look at that carefully m
But solicitors Leo Abse and Cohen say they have not taken on any
clients who to their knowledge have been identified by means of cold
calling. CCG have assured us that they find clients by legitimate
methods approved by the Ministry of Justice. We have taken steps to
satisfy ourselves that this is what CCG has been doing.
As for the tick-box form that our reporter was asked to sign, Leo
Abse and Cohen say it is a compliance questionnaire. The
reason that an unshriflted phone call option is included is to
satisfy them that the method was not used.
-- unsolicited. But there is a way to stop cold
calls in theory. It is called the Telephone Preference Services.
Or TPS. If we are on their list, UK-based companies should never
make unwanted cold calls to us. It sounds like the ideal solution.
Huge numbers of us have put our trust in it. A staggering 17.5
million phone numbers are registered with TPS.
So, that's 17.5 million numbers in the UK which, in theory, should
never receive an unsolicited call from a UK call centre, but
according to the online forums we have been looking at, and the
people who have contacted us, some companies are sim pli ignoring that.
I have registered now. I expect not to be cold called.
On the Panorama complaints line, people are not happy with TPS.
I don't know if it is the system that does not work or the companies
are ignoring it. If they do check on the database, they ignore it and
carry on ringing. So, what is going wrong with the
Telephone Preference Services? According to the Direct Marketing
Association, who run it on behalf of the industry regulator, some
firms put the rules on hold. By and large in the UK, those
people that get cold called are because companies are not abiding
by the legislation. We should be seeing enforcement against the
companies, those who are persistently breaching the
regulation. You are running the service, so are
you enforcing it? No, we have no powers of enforcement. The
enforcement sits with the Information Commissioner. You pass
on the complaints to the Information Commissioner, how many
complaints do you send on? Perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 a month in any given
month. How many are acted on? have not been prosecutions in 18
months. So you are sending sometimes 2,000
complaints a month to them and there have been no prosecutions in
18 months? They may be writing to companies asking them to explain
what they are doing, but there have been no prosecutions.
The Information Commissioner says that is because until this year
they have not had suitable legal powers to prosecute. Even with
tougher powers and fines up to half a million pounds, they say that
those who break the rules, getting them to be fineded is not easy.
If I were running a company watching this, I certainly would
not feel worried that anyone is going to come after me for calling
people who don't want to be called, even if I am breaking the
regulations? I think that in the past, certainly, the companies who
are making the calls have taken that judgment.
Now at the moment we definitely are trying to take action against the
individuals, we have only had the power to issue a fine since the end
of January, so it is early days yet. I have to say, there is a lot of
money to be made in this sphere. So the system as it stands, means
that it is worth continuing to bombard people with unwanted calls?
It is clear that some organisations have taken that judgment.
The problem with the Telephone Preference Services is that there
is a catch. It is all to do with how you share your information on
websites. If you look at this, this is a financial advice website
asking for all of your details. At the bottom there is a line asking
for your consent to be contacted by e-mail, phone or by text. If you
give that consent, the Telephone Preference Services becomes
irrelevant. This company and companies associated with it can
contact you even if you are on Telephone Preference Services. The
details are out there. You could be cold called.
If at some time in the past you have given consent to being contact,
even if you have signed up to the Telephone Preference Services now,
it will not make a jot of difference. Not to those companies
that are buying and selling the information that you gave the
website maybe years ago. That is the loophole. That is what must be
I am not sure whether you could describe the consent as being a
loophole. If someone consents to a call being made to them they've
consented to it. Back at the Panorama Call Centre there is
message coming through loud and clear on the complaints line. It's
that foreign call centres calling from outside the UK are often the
worst offenders when it comes to unwanted cold calls. It's an Indian
company by the sound of it coming from abroad. The people usually
have good English but robotic type of English. Many of the companies
breaking the rules are selling legitimate products. But there is
another, darker side to the cold calling industry. One that trades
in out and out scams with the sole purpose of parting unsuspecting
people from their cash. Meet Sharron. She filmed herself on
The call centre operator has told her that he works for a company
approved by Microsoft. He claims to have spotted a problem on her
computer which he can fix, for a fee. This is a scam. Luckily for
Sharron, she knows it and is just stringing the scammer along for the
cameras. I can't right click on your computer. He wants to sell her
bogus anti-virus software. According to Microsoft, this scam
is incredibly common. Microsoft say you would never be contacted in
this way by one of their official partners.
What I am upset at and what I worry about most is where have they got
my phone number from? Somebody is distributing my phone number to
these companies and without my permission. Since posting this
video on YouTube, Sharon's had dozens of people contacting her
saying they've also been targeted. This is very confusing. Your
computer, my computer. Whose computer is it? Pamela Warner
received a similar call. Unfortunately for her, she took the
scammer at his word. He just kept on and on intimating that he knew
there was something wrong with my computer. And he got quite bullying
actually and sort of saying that he was trying to help me all the time.
Pamela paid �120 for the cold caller to fix her computer. He gave
me a web address to type in which I did. A page came up and then there
were boxes and I had to put a number into these boxes. At which
point, they took over my computer. After realising it was a scam,
Pamela had to fork out more money to have her computer checked by a
proper expert. Even so, she's now afraid to use it. It's left me
feeling so vulnerable and quite, quite frightened of what might well
still be on it. Back at our call centre, we're also
hearing plenty of complaints about annoying text messages. I find the
spam text messages dreadly irritating. I get five or six text
messages every day. It's just a nuisance.
In Britain we receive a staggering eight million unsolicited texts a
day, offering everything from double glazing to compensation
claims and PPI refunds. How do these companies get hold of your
number? Sometimes we are part of the problem. One way they can get
your mobile tphopl is if you leave it as a contact detail on a website.
It doesn't even take very long for that whole process to happen. I am
on a site here which is about getting loans and there is an
inquiry form which I am filling out and space to put in a mobile number.
So I am going to do that. It's the number of this phone here and I've
been told that if I leave a mobile number here I will be texted by a
certain company very quickly. Minutes after inputting my mobile
number into that website, I received this text from someone
called Emma saying that she she has good news regarding my loan. She
says she is from a company called Cash Finance Direct and when you
look them up they are linked to a company called Horizon Finance and
they say they'll discuss the loan with me but at some point in the
process I will be paying �1.53 per minute on a premium rate service to
talk about it. In 2010 Horizon was fined �50,000 for significant
breaches of how they should run their premium rate lines.
Today, they say they offer a professional, accurate and
efficient service in helping you get a loan. So, have things
changed? We went undercover to find out.
When you first call Horizon about getting a loan it's a free phone
line. Staff then try to get to you call back on a premium rate number.
Our reporter's shown how it's done. In every call we observed would-be
borrowers were put on hold in the middle of a conversation. A team
leader told us it was done to make The company says it's to ensure
that while the details are checked by the computer, customers don't
overhear potentially private information relating to other
With a free phone customer on hold a worker shows us how he gets them
to call back on the premium rate Actually, the news isn't that
fantastic. You haven't got a loan at this point, you're just eligible
to apply for one if you ring back Horizon Finance told us this
employee was showing off. Another way staff convince the
customer that the application is being processed professionally is
to give them a reference number. But the reference numbers we saw
given out were fictitious and Horizon Finance say that for a
short period while their computer system was upgraded a reliable
reference could not be generated. They say no customers were
disadvantaged as a result. When we gent undercover hor's
website said they aimed to find the lender best suited to your needs
within the hour but getting the result that quickly not involves
not one, but two premium rate calls potentially costing �38.25 plus
network charges and that's within the rules if it's made clear from
the outset. But when we were undercover neither the site nor the
workers explained that if you wanted to hear within the hour it
would involve a second premium rate His sole raison d'etre here is to
get the customer ringing in to take the premium rate number so that she
can actually dial that. He's treating the customers with
contempt. It seems to be that the only thing he is interested in is
spinning out a yarn so that he gets to give this premium rate number to
the customer calling in. Horizon Finance told us all
employees have a script which has been pre-approved by the regulator.
They don't just make money from the premium rate calls, as brokers,
Horizon are putting lender and borrower together so if the loan
goes ahead they'll be paid a commission, too.
All callers are told they can apply for a full refund for the premium
rate calls. So how do Horizon make Horizon Finance say their
commitment to offering full refunds has been recognised by the
regulator as exceeding requirements. And they say they have one of the
highest success rates in the industry.
Since we approached them, they've taken the statement that they aim
to match borrowers to suitable lenders within the hour down from
their website. But there's another type of company out there in the
world of cold calling. It's the kind of company which preys on the
vulnerable, and picking up the phone to them could ruin more than
your day, it could ruin your life. Four years ago, William McNaught
received a cold call offering an investment opportunity.
Two years on, and the 75-year-old widower had handed over his life
savings. He started recording the calls.
don't know how many times I have to tell you, I have already taken out
a bank loan to appease you people. Look, I am not begging you to do
this, you know what, I am not going to get on my knees and say please,
I can move on to another another client and make money. When I say I
have to and must, take a deposit for something it's because I am
telling you the truth. I get nothing out of it. Nothing
whatsoever. You see what I mean? Yeah. He is quite aggressive.
yes, yes. William is sa victim of a land banking scam, where cold
callers persuade people to invest thousands in worthless plots of
land. William bought two here. What did you find out about the true
worth of the land? The value of each plot was no more than �75.
you had bought them for �20,000 in total? Yes. How did you feel when
you found that out? Well, I felt quite distraught. What do do you?
Where do you turn? According to the consumer magazine Which? This scam
is all too common. The land banking scams do seem to be on the rise and
this is a good example of what starts with a cold call can turn
into you losing serious sums of money. The company that targeted
William was called the Property Partnership, based in the city of
London. Put it down in writing and seal see what happens. When dill
William called to demand his money back the salesman would simply try
to queas him for more. What do you mean we will see what happens? I am
in charge here, do you want to wait another five years? I told you the
last time we spoke I won't be alive in five years. I am 75 this year.
OK, then we are fighting a losing battle. I can't help you unless we
put a deposit down. The Property Partnership has since disappeared
but they weren't the only company to sell virtually worthless land to
William. Two other firms had him in his sights -- in their sights. In
all, he bought 14 plots of land handing over �167,000. Having lost
all his money, William has to keep working. City of London fraud
detectives say they're actively investigating the tpeurpbls
involved in targeting him. What does the future hold, William?
me? A life of penury. A life of destitution. Although I am 76 this
year, I live in dread of becoming old and doddery with no financial
backing left. And that just about sums it up.
We've learned to accept cold calling as an irritating fact of
modern life. And yet it seems clear that the
system for regulating the industry is flawed.
It's already out of hand. At worst, it's costing people thousands of
pounds in scams. At best, it's a real nuisance. The Government's got
to get a grip on this and put the right resources into upholding the
rules. But for now it seems that all too often the cold call cowboys
are getting away with it. Next week: With Britain suffering
Britain is being affected by an 'epidemic' of unsolicited and unwanted calls and texts. With an estimated three billion marketing calls and messages received every year, Panorama goes undercover to expose how some firms are getting round the regulations designed to protect consumers.