Call Centres Undercover Panorama

Call Centres Undercover

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.

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