How your details end up in the hands of cold callers

Cold callers irritate us all with calls at terrible times, flogging all sorts of rubbish. And even if you sign up for TPS, they can still get your number.

Why do I bother answering the home phone when I am doing something else? It's rarely welcome – and often annoying.

So there I was, on Jubilee Sunday, watching the River Thames pageant when the phone rang. It was an Indian call centre guy with a pretend English name and a mangled version of mine. I shouldn't complain about his English – my Hindi is non-existent.

He offered a “marketing survey” which would “only take a minute or two”. As there was a bit of a lull in the parade, I decided to go along with it. But it soon became clear that this was not the usual run through of dozens of categories such as gym membership or motoring followed by the names of major firms and charities, all part of a process to ensure that subsequent calls and mailshots would be better targeted.

Outside the rules

Instead, he was an investment warm-up man. The financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), bans cold calling. But the investment was carbon credit trading which is not regulated and so outside cold calling rules.

“Where did you find my name and phone number?” I asked. Now the beauty of this marketing call was that he claimed my details came from a previous marketing call. And no doubt that one had relied on one before that. So, I might be signed up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which is intended to prevent cold calling, but I wasn't cold at all. Because of my previous “marketing call” I was now a warm, even hot, prospect.

He also had my address as I realised when he offered to post me a carbon credit brochure – it has not yet arrived and I reckon it won't. The reason? Offering to send out something gives the next person in the carbon sales chain the chance to phone me to ask if I have received it. When I say “no”, he'll have the excuse to pressure me again – and then have another go when the booklet finally appears.

Move home and change your phone numbers

I now realise there is no way that I can escape these calls without drastic action. I would have to change my home phone and mobile numbers, although altering the latter won't prevent those “we know you have had an accident and can claim £3,750” texts. It would probably help if I moved home as well. But that won't be enough if I am stupid enough in the future to tick (or sometimes simply forget to untick) those boxes which ask if I am happy to receive communications from “carefully selected third parties.”

I once thought that meant that if I bought a computer, I would receive information about software and accessories. Wrong. Instead, the third parties are “carefully selected” to be those that pay the most for a list. That then ends up with a list broker who sells my information on again and again.

[Related feature: Claims management firms - the vultures taking money from us all]

How I ended up on the list

I asked a law firm acting for a carbon credit trader about cold calling and how my details were on the list. The answer was in solicitor speak so it was hardly a model of clarity – in fact, it was confusingly vague and without any pretence precision. My comments are in italics.

It said: “Unlike many other brokerages, our client company does not rely on 'investment register' leads (presumably from shareholder lists). Instead, our client only uses stems (whatever they are) from people who have completed telephone surveys (whatever content they have) and opted-in to receiving further details from third parties. Of the total amount of data purchased, this constitutes 60% (a surprisingly round and presumably inaccurate number). The remaining 40% of data originates from leads including tailor-made telemarketing campaigns, email bulletins, email campaigns and referrals.”

So when you next get a call you think is cold, it isn't. It's piping hot and from one of the sources above.

Forget complaining about cold calling or asking where they got your details. Either slam the phone down as soon as you hear that unmistakeable call centre buzz – or waste their time by putting the receiver near a radio.

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