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Checking the Avalanche

Are you really so dumb that you need people to tell you what you want to buy? of course you're not. So why put up with people calling you at all hours of the night to sell you double glazing? Why accept people using your letter box as a rubbish bin. Fight back. It's not difficult and it does work.

Cold Calling

There are now two ways of stopping cold calls. In the old days 99% of cold callers simply worked their way through the phone book. This made sense for them as Office of Fair Trading guidelines said that that they should only phone people who are listed. If you're not listed you won't get calls - it does work. I've not been phoned by a double glazing company at all since I took my number out of the phone book. So the answer was to ask for your number to be excluded from the phone book. This is not the same as being ex-directory, your number will still be available from directory enquiries so your friends can still get your number. The problem is that it can take up to 18 months for this to work.

I still recommend doing that but things have moved on now. Now we have the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) (Direct Marketing) Regulations 1998. The consequence of these regulations is that anyone phoning you for marketing purposes, and that includes charities looking for donations, must not phone you if you've told them you don't want to be phoned or if you've registered with Telephone Preference Service (TPS). So you can stop individual companies by telling them not to phone you any more (and they must keep a record of that) or all companies by registering with the TPS.

The TPS has existed for a while but the big chance now is that with these new regulations callers must check your number against the TPS list even if you are an existing customer (or supporter in the case of charities). The previous defence - that they already have a "relationship" with you - no longer applies. The maximum penalty for getting this wrong is £5,000!

You can now register with the TPS online. It takes 28 days before you appear on their list.

If you do get cold called after registering then make sure you complain. The TPS have a complaint form and prefer to get details via this form. This complaint form is available online in both MS-Word and PDF format. Keep a couple of complaint forms by the phone after you've registered with the TPS and fill the complaint form in when the you get the cold call (although if you've gone ex-directory too then this won't be very often).

Alternatively you can now do this online and save yourself a stamp. Start here. Remember: if you don't complain they will continue to get away with it, so please make the effort to do so.

There's also the Fax Preference Service which offers a similar service to stop junk faxes. You can register your numbers online.

Finally, although there's an element of religion about this one, you might consider rejecting calls which don't withhold CLI, a service known as Anonymous Call Rejection (ACR). Cold callers often avoid presenting CLI so you can't phone them back. This doesn't stop international calls, or calls from callers such as the police or hospitals who are allowed to not present CLI, which is a subtly different thing from withholding it. Turning on ACR also stops market researchers, who aren't restricted by TPS registration. BT normally charge for using ACR but it's free from NTL. For NTL how it's activated seems to vary depending on who was your local cable company before NTL bought them. Generally either 1478 or *227# turns it on, 1479 or #227# turns it off, however in some areas neither of these work and you have to ring customer services and get them to turn it on for you.

International Cold Calling

Since I first wrote the above a new menace has come on the scene. Americans selling holidays in Florida. The arrival of such a call is heralded by "INTERNATIONAL" or "OUT OF AREA" on your CLI box if you've got CLI display. When you pick up an automated message tells you you've won a prize, just press "9" to be connected to a human.

The problem with these sort of calls is that neither TPS nor ACR stops them as TPS has no powers outside the UK and ACR doesn't stop international calls getting through (because generally speaking no international call presents CLI). They also phone everyone, their autodiallers simply work their way through then number range, so being ex-directory doesn't help.

Hence all the tactics described above don't help.

So where does this leave you. Well, tactic one is simply to hang up as soon as they start. Be warned that it takes some time for the line to clear down after you've done this.

A more agressive approach is to press "9". Remember they're paying for this call, not you, so it's costing them both international call time plus the cost of employing someone to talk to you. You've got several options now:

  • Abuse is fun but they've probably heard all those words before.
  • If you've got the time then see how long you can string them along. I kept one of them on the line for twenty minutes one afternoon when I was bored. You're not only costing them money but you're doing the rest of us a favour by stopping them moving on to the next number.
  • A variation on this if you've got a phone like mine with hands free and mute is to go hands free, turn on mute and press '9'. After a few seconds a 'merkin comes on and starts on the script. They can't hear me as I've got the phone on mute so after a few seconds they hang up. I don't so the line remains open, costing them money.

    After a minute or so the line burst into life and you find yourself listening to another call being taken. The punter is hard to hear but the 'merkin is very clear. So I let them burble on. After a while I get bored but I've usually cost them a good 20+ minutes of transatlantic call but then. The only catch is it ties up my phone, but it doesn't cost me anything.

  • If you're very naughty start as above but drift into asking more personal questions (what colour knickers they're wearing comes to mind). I've not had the nerve to do this, but it could be fun.
  • On a more serious note Mary Pegg reports that automated pre-recorded calls are illegal in the US and if you can get their company name, phone number, and any other details they'll give you then you can complain to the Florida department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as they're invariably always based in Florida. You will need to fill in this form. Mary says that "unless you tick the box that allows them to forward a copy of the complaint to the telespammers, you will get a letter telling you that they can't process the complaint without that permission" so make sure you do that.

NB: whatever you do don't give the operator your telephone number - despite them having phoned you they don't appear to know your number.

Targetted Junk Mail

The vast majority of junk mail comes from addresses provided to the advertiser by list suppliers. These list suppliers weed out from their lists anyone who is registered with the Mailing Preference Service. This is free and it works remarkably well. Junk mail magically stops, although it can take up to four months for it to work.

To register go to the MPS online web site.

The other source of personally addressed mail is companies you purchase goods from or ask for literature from. They generally seem to assume that this gives them the right to send you junk mail forever. Most of them have an opt out scheme, normally a tick box on the first form you give them your address on. Look out for it. Use it.

Unaddressed Junk Mail

The Post Office now deliver a lot of this with the post. This service is called "Royal Mail Door to Door". To stop it you need to write to them at Oxford and they will ask your postie to stop doing it. This works, but not when your regular postie is off or when your postie is not too bright. (I save up any that slips through the net and return it in the next replied paid envelope I get via Door to Door - childish I know, but you have to get your fun where you can.) The address to write to is:

Freepost RRBT-ZBXB-TTTS
Door to Door Opt Outs
Royal Mail
Kingsmead House
Oxpens Road
OXFORD
OX1 1RX

You can also do this via email: send an email to with your full name and address.

You might also like to think about getting yourself a letterbox sticker. I've been thinking for ages we need something like this and Robert Rijkhoff's Stop Junk Mail site sells something suitable (and also has a lot more information about junk mail - worth a visit).

Junk Email

Junk email, also known as UCE (unsolicited commercial email) or spam, is another source of grief, although the difference here is that you have to pay to receive it. Again there are ways to fight back:

  1. Don't give people your email address in the first place if you can avoid doing so.
  2. If you have control over the email address you use, then use one shot ones, or ones that allow you to identify who's misusing your email address. For example I use z-<company>@the-hug.org, so Aardvark Inc for example have my email address as . So I know if I get mail to that address it's from Aardvark Inc or from someone who's been given my email address by Aardvark and I can give Aardvark a roasting.
  3. If you have your email address on your web site then consider protecting it via Javascript (see the HTML source of this page for an example of how to do this) or, failing that, use something like "paul(a)the-hug.org". If you fail to do this then automated email address harvesters may lift your email address from your web page1.
  4. Don't reply to junk mail, don't reply to the remove address - these are often used as ways of validating email address.
  5. Do complain to the poster's ISP (usually by mailing abuse@<isp>), but only if you're sure that the email address is genuine. It's easy to fake email addresses and most of it is faked. The way to tell if it's a genuine address is to examine the Received: headers. If you can't interpret those then don't complain to the ISP.
  6. If the mail includes a link to a web page at an ISP or web site provider then complain to the ISP. Most ISPs, and especially the free ones, don't like people using UCE to advertise their site and will pull the site (this tactic seems to be particularly effective in my experience). This also works well if they ask you to reply via an email address other than the one they used to send you the mail.
  7. The American Direct Marketing Association, have an Email Preference Service which you can register email addresses with. My view is that any responsible company doesn't use junk email, period, because of the issue that it costs the receiver. Registering with the EPS simply encourages DMA members to believe they have a right to email anyone who's not opted out but it's your choice.
  8. Consider having your mail filtered. There are companies and ISPs who offer this service. If you're nerds like Beth and I you can do it yourself using free tools like procmail. I get a lot of junk email and the vast majority of it is trapped and filtered out before it gets to my mailbox.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Not your usual salesman, but they're selling religion2, and they're very easy to stop. Next time they come around ask them to add you to their list of people who don't like being called on. (Normally you get added to it if you're sufficiently rude to them, why bother when they'll do it anyway if you ask politely.)

  1. As happened with z-aardvark@the-hug.org which I mentioned above: it didn't used to protected and I now get spam to that email address as a result!
  2. Curiously I've had one University site remove their link to this page because of this statement - no I didn't understand why either.
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