Who’s calling?

WE have been enduring a ridiculous number of nuisance calls recently, particularly on my mobile phone. If you add the time spent answering these calls and deleting the countless fishing and spam emails that roll into all our email accounts, it would amount to many minutes a week, if not hours. Truly a waste of time.

The calls to the landline are usually people trying to sell us stair-lifts or blinds for the conservatory, neither of which we need or want! Sometimes the calls are international, and we always try to be polite as we say “no thank you,” and put the phone down.

Sometimes they are from UK numbers, and sometimes the numbers are withheld and if you do answer the phone you are greeted with either an unpleasant electronic noise, silence or the phone immediately disconnects. I gather that many such calls are made by computers on a random dialling system, so only a very small proportion of the calls that are answered will actually be connected to a person.

As journalists we have always opted not to use the telephone preference service which (in theory at least) enables the customer to bar calls from numbers that he or she does not know. We do want to hear from people whom we may not know but who may want to talk to us, whether it is for Fine Times Recorder, Screen Bites Food Film Festival or one of our other activities.

So we have caller ID on our phones and can choose not to answer a call if we don’t recognise the number (or at least the area code).

As far as the rubbish on the computers is concerned, we delete it and remove from the Trash straight away. Don’t open it. We can’t be sure we won’t lose something we might possibly want, but this way we can be reasonably hopeful of not taking in any malware, trojan horses, spyware, viruses or other nasties that might destroy our hard drives.

But the calls to the mobile are more insidious. I started getting them some years ago after a very silly accident in which I left my then car on what I thought was a flat parking area at a farmshop, without putting the handbrake on. It rolled gently down the almost imperceptible slope into a gate. The car’s bumper came off worse then the gate.

Within a couple of weeks, my friend who owned the farmshop started getting calls offering to help her pursue damages for her “injuries.” I also got calls from bogus lawyers of the ambulance-chasing variety encouraging me to seek compensation for the injuries I had sustained (remember, I wasn’t in the car!)

More recently I have had a spate of calls from companies wanting to help me pursue compensation for fictitious accidents or (nonexistent) mis-sold payment protection schemes.

A few months ago, after a lorry driver reversed (very slowly) into my stationary car, I received another deluge of these unwanted calls so now I don’t answer my mobile at all, unless I recognise the number.

Making inquiries through our insurance company, I learned that it is common for information (including names and mobile phone numbers) about insurance claims to be sold on to third parties who will then try to make money from this information. It is contrary to the Data Protection Act and anyone employed by our insurance company who is found to have done this will be instantly sacked, I was told. Since the average fee for these “tips” is apparently £10 it seems a big risk for a small gain.

Currently I am getting at least one bogus call daily, from what appear to be landlines spread all over the country – recent calls have come from Swansea, Evesham, Matlock, Ledbury and Duns in the Scottish borders. I don’t know anyone or have any dealings with any businesses or organisations in these areas.

I answered the mobile this week because I was expecting a call and didn’t bother to look at the incoming number. The caller had a shouty voice, gave a company name I didn’t recognise and demanded to know if I was Anne Charles (Anne is my second name – I am never called that). I asked who he was and he shouted that he was asking the questions and I had to answer. I put the phone down. I checked out the number on Google and found that it was one of several that are recognised as harassment calls.

I have no idea what it was about, nor do I want to know. I assume there would be some sort of scam going on, but it would be hard to imagine a worse way of dealing with people!

Surely the first rule of a successful con is “charm the victim”?

I was going to write about the Climate Change agreement this week, and then the small optimism that I felt after the Paris talks was dashed by the MPs’ utterly predictable, hypocritical vote in favour of fracking under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s good to know our government takes its environmental responsibilities so seriously.

So that’s for another week – in the meantime, enjoy the preparations for Christmas, and be careful how you answer calls from unknown numbers. The advice is simple – if in doubt don’t answer, or put the phone down if you have any misgivings. Delete all email spam immediately and don’t open anything on your computer that you aren’t happy about.

Or you could try my partner’s excellent ruse – she puts on a very small voice and says”I’m four!” and keeps on saying it, until they hang up!

Fanny Charles