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Defeating unsolicited phone calls

Out of Area - International calls are flagged up on Caller DisplayThe other day someone called me claiming that they’d checked my phone number, and it’s supposed to be on “BT Wholesale” prices(!). I said that it’s unlikely because mine’s a private ex-directory number, and they just hung up (I hate that). It’s nonsense to suggest that anyone should be on “BT Wholesale” prices and it’s a fair bet that they were a “phoney” telco trying to lock me into their own tariffs instead.

Telecoms is a heavy pressure sell, and I would rather swallow razor blades than engage with any of these firms.  Typically an “agent” will be in the area tomorrow and can explain more. Or they’ll try the old sales opener of “If we can show you how to save money, would you be interested?” – a question that many find hard to answer “No”.

Personally, I try by default not to be rude and to end the call on my terms not theirs. I feel better that way; otherwise I get annoyed for the rest of the day! As many overseas “boiler room” scammers know, it’s a British thing to be polite and many of us find it difficult to be rude or terminate a phone call abruptly. Many vulnerable people can’t deal with these aggressive sales calls though, which can be upsetting or distressing as a result.

Many cold-callers can sense this weakness, and will try to keep you engaged and gradually wear you down. No time? Well it will only take a moment and we can save you money. How much do you spend?   Or, when will it be more convenient to call back? Why not tomorrow? We can save you money. Happy with BT? When did you last compare prices then? We can save you money.

An acquaintance of mine will tear any cold-caller limb from limb, but most of us aren’t built like that and find it hard (or haven’t the energy) to handle telecoms sellers (or uPVC windows, insurance, will-writing, PPI, accident claims, etc).  If you’re plagued by nuisance callers, here’s some basic advice and practical solutions to help you handle this problem.

It’s important to remember that pressure-sellers have heard it all before. They’ve got answers and workarounds for every objection or response that you are likely to make.

By stripping away your objections one by one, they overcome the series of hurdles that’s stopping you from signing up or making an appointment for a sales rep. to call (who can work on you in person to close the deal instead).

One tactic to engage you further is to reply with another question (or repeat your point back to you, posed as a question –  ‘echoing’ – You’re already with BT did you say? ), followed by an uncomfortable silence, which puts the pressure back on you to reply with an objection or a question.

These are powerful ways of unseating you and getting a foot in the door, aiming for the point when your defences finally drop and you become prime material for a sales closure.

Some useful tips

  • Try not to be drawn in, nor engage with cold callers – the more information you give out, the more “handles” you’re giving them to get hold of. Sometimes, highly impertinent questions are asked: Do you have a credit card with a balance on it? Retort that it's a private matter, or priveleged information.
  • Try following anything you say with an uncomfortable silence to keep them on the back foot.
  • Stonewall them. I’m not in the market whatsoever. I have far more important things to do and telecoms isn’t one of them. Goodbye, cheers! Simply hang up and don’t worry about appearing rude.
  • I’m not in the slightest bit interested. (What? Even if we can save you money?) Nope. Questions such as “How much money can you save me?” or “What’s the minimum contract?” are all great “buying signals” which sellers are trained to watch for. Then they can move in closer, generating an order or a qualified sales lead.  Then a sales rep. can finish off the job and “close” the sale.
  • I’m locked into a 24 month contract and can’t move. (Who are you signed up with? It doesn’t matter. But we can maybe save you money. and so the timewasting goes on… making excuses simply engages them more.)

We offer answers and excuses this way because we’re trying to be polite and end the call on our terms, not theirs. But don’t be afraid to just say Not interested, goodbye, thanks for calling and then simply hang up. I think it’s most important that you stay in control but be as graceful as possible, and they don’t get the upper hand. It also helps ensure that you don’t upset yourself.

Incoming Fire!

Caller Display can identify the incoming number on compatible telephones, so you can choose not to answer unrecognised numbers, but even if you ignore them they can still disturb when they call at inconvenient times (lunch or tea time, when they have a captive audience). Calls showing Number Withheld/ Not Available or Out of Area/ International are more of a problem because sometimes they are genuine calls that you might want to take. As a rule though, I won’t answer such calls unless they’re pre-arranged and I know to expect them. I’ll be writing about one persistent market research firm – Kantar Operations – and the loopholes in the privacy law, separately.

As a first step, you can order (free) BT Privacy at Home (Caller Display) at if your phone has a compatible display. Here are some Phones with Caller Display on Amazon. Check specs. before buying.

You can also opt out (UK) of unsolicited sales calls using the Telephone Preference Service. See

The TPS is simply a public-facing body paid for by the marketing industry. This begs the question of whether it’s really got your interests at heart, or whether they’re more interested in ensuring that the trade can target its own resources more efficiently by not wasting their time calling you! I suppose there’s a perverse synergy there.

If you are TPS-registered but  still receive unsolicited calls, then you can initially complain to the TPS which may not have much effect, at least not in the short term. You’d need details of the caller which you probably didn’t get anyway! And if there is an existing “relationship” then they can call you unless you tell them to stop. Genuine market research calls can’t be stopped this way either. Overall, I think life is too short to get too embroiled with complaining about spurious phone calls.

If the frequency or timing of nuisance calls becomes a problem though, then ultimately you can use a call-blocking device to screen out unsolicited calls. I suggest a couple of typical units below.

Lastly, try complaining to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) instead, but the chances are that this will have no short or medium term effect. It might make you feel better though.

More advice for dealing with malicious or nuisance calls is available from Ofcom

Nuisance Phone Call Blockers

If you are persistently troubled by nuisance phone calls then the last practical step is to buy a hardware device such as the popular TrueCall Nuisance Call Blocker. It can intercept all incoming calls and only allow ones that you want, to be put through to you. The rest are ordered by a pre-recorded voice never to call you again, and will be screened out.

The cheaper CPR101 All-In-One Call Blocker claims to prevent calls from a blocked number from being connected again. You answer once and press the “Block Now” button to add it to the device’s blacklist for the future. The number won’t be able to get through again. It works with fax machines too, but remember Caller ID has to be enabled for it to work. You can also block numbers manually by entering a code into the phone keypad.

Some caveats: bear in mind these gadgets are best plugged directly into the main BT socket where it enters the building. They have to detect the ringing tone and some phones (Panasonic was mentioned) may not be compatible: this means the call blocker can’t tell that the line is ringing.  (I’ve had problems with HP fax machines not answering when a Panasonic phone shared the line.) Read the user reviews carefully, as feedback and experiences are clearly very mixed. A new version of the CPR Call Blocker with its own power source is promised for Summer 2012.

If you buy it online and find it doesn’t work for you, then the usual Seven Day period (UK) for returns applies, under the Distance Selling Regulations.

Try a hardware device such as the Truecall Nuisance Call Blocker as a last resort, and see if it helps repair your frayed nerves.

Reader Comments (5)

for persistant calls I reccomend the Acme Thunderer a loud whistle

March 29, 2012 at 7:45 | Unregistered Commenterderek johnson

I often politely say to the caller, 'I'm sorry, I'll have to put you on hold for a few moments', then I place the handset on top of my radio and play music for a few minutes, by which time the caller is long gone. If they want to waste my time, I derive a small frisson of satisfaction from wasting a little of theirs. Silly, I know, but boys will be boys!

I'm registered with the Telephone Prefference Service to not receive 'junk calls' but that's only for UK companies and many of these calls seem to be from offshore. I've had the dodgy calls from those putting my gullibility to the test by alleging to be from Micrcrosoft telling me that my computer has been infected and I need to follow their instructions to restore it. I just tell them that it isn't my computer that's infected, it is them - they've caught a virus that is causing them to engage in criminal activities and they need to see a doctor right away or the virus will steal their soul. It seems to spook them!


March 29, 2012 at 9:50 | Unregistered CommenterDavid ('Yorkie')

I love the "Microsoft callers". I spent twenty minutes on the phone to one of them carefully following their instructions VERY SLOWLY, then told them I was running Linux. He found this quite funny. It also stopped him bothering anyone else for twenty minutes. I always try to keep people on the line if possible. Waste as much of their time as possible for no reward.
It makes me happy, but I am quite a sad puppy. ;)

April 15, 2013 at 16:30 | Unregistered CommenterRob Last

We're overdue in the UK for all cold calling to be banned - if there ever was a place for it, the marketing idiots have so abused it, it must be virtually useless to anyone but scammers in much the way doorstep selling is.

I used to be polite for the same reasons, but I've given up, partly because a refusal, but mainly because I think reducing calls without changes to law becomes about economics. Most of the people who call are a)human and b) working on commission - this includes many of the larger scams such as 'your computer is broken etc'; no sale, no commission. A listening person is probably viewed as a 'maybe' till proven otherwise, someone who isssues a short string of expletives and hangs up is more likely to be viewed as a definitive 'no' and perhaps might even be added to the 'don't even bother' list.

It also plays to the 'human' element. Many of those doing this are otherwise reasonable people, and I'd imagine that if everyone made the experience as unpleasant as possible for them AND offered zero prospect of a sale, the will to continue would erode that much quicker, perhaps even spreading the word wider to potential employees that even trying such jobs was an utter waste of time.

I find it extremely depressing (I am generally very polite, and prefer to be so) that there are simply so many greedy, pointless businesses in the UK that theres little choice but to divide interactions into "will/wont give the time of day to", and simply dismiss all "wonts" quickly and unpleasantly. In the circumstances, as far as I'm concerned its a job I'm being rude to, not a person as they've created the situation, and the shorter the interaction, the less irritated I feel.

August 18, 2014 at 13:02 | Unregistered CommenterMark

Apparently you can speak to your phone providerand ask them to blacklist the number?

July 31, 2016 at 19:50 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thompson

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