We’ve all had it, the persistent calls at ridiculous hours, with recorded or spoken scripts riddled with lies. The smarmy sleazy voices. They pretend to represent or be authorised by government departments. They pretend they know about a claim or right you have. They pretend you have to do something because of new legislation. They lie and lie and lie. They want your money for some dubious product, and people have been scammed out of thousands of pounds this way. They want your personal information, and giving them that is a large step on the way to the hell of ID theft and further fraud.
They got your data from somewhere illegally, and once one bunch of these crooks have your data it gets sold around. Try as you will, you can’t stop it. It’s not just data breaches. It’s not just small naïve organisations not being good enough with their data security. It’s not just all these marketing offers. Government departments have been publishing sensitive personal data for years, and two of the biggest are doing their damndest to start selling it on a large scale to all and sundry – step forward HMRC and the NHS. We have in the space of a few short years been forced into dealing with constant harassment within our homes.
I’m actually surprised that telecoms companies aren’t protesting about this. There’s been a lot of recent publicity about people giving up on landlines for the simple reason that the bulk of calls come from fraudsters autodialling or using illegally obtained information. At least with a mobile you can cut the call off. When it comes to the primitive technology of landlines, the caller has control and can block your line.
With elections coming up we’re getting mealy mouthed platitudes from politicians about doing something to stop this. Why haven’t they done it before? The legislation already exists. These calls easily fall within harassment legislation and it is a criminal offence.
• It certainly distresses people to be constantly interrupted
• Frequently numbers are withheld, which is intrinsically threatening since the caller appears to be untraceable
• Many of these calls are silent, which is particularly threatening.
• A frequent tactic is to pretend that there is legislation which means the called person must do something
• The callers refuse to say where they obtained the personal information they so clearly have, which is a tactic of intimidation – ‘we know about you, we won’t say how’
• Buying or selling or passing on illegally obtained information is certainly harassment since it perpetuates and escalates the distress being caused.
The CPS provides the following definition of harassment:
‘the term harassment is used to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997…. The term can also include harassment by two or more defendants against an individual or harassment against more than one victim.
Although harassment is not specifically defined in section 7(2) of the PHA, it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.
A prosecution under section 2 or 4 requires proof of harassment. In addition, there must be evidence to prove the conduct was targeted at an individual, was calculated to alarm or cause him/her distress, and was oppressive and unreasonable.
Closely connected groups may also be subjected to ‘collective’ harassment. The primary intention of this type of harassment is not generally directed at an individual but rather at members of a group. This could include: members of the same family; residents of a particular neighbourhood; groups of a specific identity including ethnicity or sexuality, for example, the racial harassment of the users of a specific ethnic community centre; harassment of a group of disabled people; harassment of gay clubs; or of those engaged in a specific trade or profession.
Well, distress is being caused on a large scale. There are very clearly repeated attempts to impose unwanted communication, and there is no realistic opt out – the so called opt out option on automated calls has long been recognised as being used as confirmation that the person called is gullible so a good target for further harassment.
As to evidence, since these scammers are being allowed by telecoms providers to withhold numbers or display numbers, there’s not a lot the victim can do. But the information is flowing through the telecoms companies. They make money from these calls. In effect they are abetting fraud and harassment by doing this. Let’s see them forced to take some responsibility.
Are individuals being targeted on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’? Look at the age profiles. Ask people who have hit 50 or 60 or 70. Ask people who have started getting a state pension. Age is a recognised trigger for increasing volumes of scam calls. The fraudsters assume that older people are easier to intimidate into parting with information and money, and sometimes they are right. It may be the targeting of people who grew up in more innocent times and who, by retiring, are predictably likely to be at home at times to suit scammers. It may be people who are vulnerable through bereavement, particularly if the late spouse took responsibility for financial matters. It is more common for elderly people to be confused, through dementia or medication, so less resistive to scams. It sure as hell means that these scammers are targeting people on the basis of the protected characteristic of age.
Of course the people doing all this cannot help but be fully aware that they are following a course of conduct which amounts to harassment. It takes little intelligent thought to recognise the conduct as unreasonable. In fact it takes a highly determined effort at self-deception to find even the flimsiest framework which shows the conduct as anything other than deceptive, dishonest, unreasonable, and intimidating.
They know all of this when they buy data without checking it has been legally obtained so the defence of legitimate trade does not apply. They know it when they sell the data on illegitimately. They know it when they autodial. They know it when they phone TPS registered numbers. They know it when they write and approve scripts full of lies. They know it when they train their staff.
They? The Board of Directors, obviously, and also those in senior management who promote and collude with harassing behaviour. That covers operational management and strategic decision making. It covers HR when they set targets which depend on harassment producing results. It covers those who accept financial reports based on results obtained by harassment. It covers auditors who turn a blind eye to the way a company generates its profits. It covers those businesses which provide outsourced outbound calling services and pretend that they have no responsibility for the legitimacy of the data they use for calling. They are all executing or colluding with institutionalised practices of harassment.
There is of course Data Protection legislation, but that is too weak to be useful, more so since it relies on civil prosecution by the victim, and the harassment is executed in a way which prevents the victim from getting access to the necessary proof.
Under Protection From Harassment legislation, a perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to 6 months and fined up to £5000. The legislation for punishment exists. The cases exist to prosecute. The data is available to prosecute. Yet there has yet to be a prosecution. Not a single politician has risen from their backside to ask why there have been no prosecutions.
The DeliveryDemon, like a lot of people, is pretty quick to recognise scammers and tell them where to go. They are still a bloody nuisance and their calls are still harassment. She would dearly love to hear just one actual or prospective MP actually stand up and ask – loudly – for action to be taken using the ample legislation which is already in place.
Yes, let’s see the Action Fraud database being used to collect details of these harassers. And Data Protection reports. And Ofcom reports. And TPS reports. All the data collection mechanisms exist. Let’s see a campaign encouraging the victims to report their harassers. Let’s see some pressure on the telecoms companies to take responsibility for ensuring that their networks are not used for harassment. And let’s see the data being used for prosecutions.
We have seen a few prosecutions in other sectors for blatant criminal activity. Doing the same to the decision makers in nuisance cold calling organisations just might prompt an improvement in their behaviour.