True money stories from smart people: Cold-caller revenge

Published by Jasmine Birtles on 14 March 2016.
Last updated on 27 May 2016

Jean-Paul Sartre once said: “Hell is other people,” which was pretty prescient of him considering he said it some time before the invention of that truly hellish of human practices: cold calling.

Admittedly, phoning up innocent householders to sell them products or services they neither need nor ever dreamed of wanting is just an extension of the age-old market-trader practice of calling out to passing pedestrians to sell them their wares.

But at least those pedestrians weren’t soaking wet, having rushed out of the shower to answer an anonymous call.

The first rule to get rid of callers from legitimate businesses is to sign up to the TPS (the Telephone Preference Service). But there are many other callers who blithely avoid detection, usually because they are calling from a wilder part of the world, such as Zimbabwe, Kuala Lumpur – or Swindon.

This modern imposition demands a modern defence.

One of my favourite techniques is to say “Hold on, please...”, put down the phone and go and do the washing up. After a while, they realise what’s happening, get bored and hang up.

I have yet to pretend to be a cat and start miaowing, or say excitedly: “Yes, I’d love to hear about your product but let me tell you first about the holy joy of Krishna consciousness.”

But our readers have been even more creative in their approach. Dennis (doesn’t give us his surname) says: “I tell them that I am a burglar, the householders are on holiday and that I have just stolen their TV and video, and was about to steal the telephone when it rang.”

Susan Wilson – clearly a woman to be reckoned with – says: “When they tell me I’ve won something, I am really friendly and tell them all about how it’s been a dreadful month – the cat died, my husband left me, I can’t pay the mortgage, the bailiffs are coming to take the furniture away, my latest medical tests show the disease is back, etc. You can go on as long as you are able. Tell them that your prayers have been answered and it’s lovely to get some good luck for a change and strangely enough they tend to put the phone down on you!”

Equally hardcore, David Hinder takes a businesslike approach. “For those annoying people who ask for ‘just five minutes’ of my time,” he says, “my standard reply is: ‘By all means, I charge £15 for half an hour or part thereof. Can you please let me have your credit card number?’ If they incredulously ask me do I really charge for my time, I tell them
that of course I do: after all, they are being paid for their time, aren’t they?”

But ‘Artycart’ makes an existential point: “We get these calls regularly. He always calls back, even when we tell him we are not interested. What does he really want?”

And indeed, what does he really want? I feel we’re back to Sartre here.

Are these calls actually to sell us PPI or is there a deep and existential void that makes them reach out for contact, with double glazing as a double bluff? Is this the Samaritans in reverse?

Maybe they just need a hug.

Or maybe we should just gently replace the receiver and withdraw to a quiet place.


Money stories from not-so-smart firms

Nuisance Call Blocker Ltd and the Telecom Protection Service (not to be confused with the Telephone Preference Service) are two notable examples of cold callers.

Last year, the data regulator fined them £90,000 and £80,000 respectively for contacting people out of the blue, claiming they could block timewasters.

The regulator took a dim view of the fact they were flouting the rules and pestering people themselves.

Maybe we should copy consumer activist Newt Beaumont, who set up a premium rate phone number, so he’d get paid to take nuisance calls.

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