Norma Whittard, 85, has always kept a tight grip on her finances. So when her niece, Harriet, spotted streams of new direct debit arrangements on her aunt’s bank statements she was suspicious.
It emerged that Norma, who suffers from dementia, had been bombarded by nuisance callers every day for months.
They had convinced her to set up endless payments — worth thousands of pounds a year — to companies claiming to offer household appliance insurance.
The number of people reporting nuisance callers has more than halved in the last 12 months as victims give up on seeking justice
‘The phone won’t stop ringing and I don’t know what to do,’ the pensioner, from Stratford-upon-Avon, told her family.
Cases like Norma’s are being repeated up and down the country.
About 1.5 billion nuisance calls occurred last year, or 9,000 a minute, according to estimates from the software firm Hiya.
But, astonishingly, the number of people reporting nuisance callers has more than halved in the past 12 months as victims give up on seeking justice.
It is little surprise then that the Government has pledged a crackdown.
Under new rules, the maximum fine for firms found to be hounding people with unwanted sales calls will be raised from £500,000 to £17.5 million, or 4 per cent of their global turnover — whichever is highest.
Watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), will also be given enhanced enforcement powers.
Currently, the ICO can only penalise firms for calls that are answered.
The legislation, outlined in the Data Reform Bill, will allow them to take action over high volumes of unanswered calls.
However, this legislation is of little use if customers do not report nuisance callers in the first place.
Earlier this week, the Daily Mail revealed how Britain had become the fraud capital of the world, with losses rocketing to £3 billion a year.
While not all nuisance callers are necessarily fraudsters, many are, and reporting them can cut scammers off at source.
Menace: About 1.5 billion nuisance calls occurred last year, or 9,000 a minute, according to estimates from the software firm Hiya
Campaigners warn there is a ‘silent epidemic’ of elderly scam victims in the UK who are often too scared to come forward.
According to the Office for National Statistics, only one in seven frauds are reported to the police or Action Fraud.
And so far this year, just 27,281 complaints about nuisance callers have been logged using the ICO’s online reporting tool — a drop in the ocean.
This is also less than half the 70,253 reports it received in the same period last year.
What’s more, between May 2021 and May 2022 the ICO issued just 37 fines of a total £3.04 million to companies making nuisance calls, texts and emails.
Today, the regulator is renewing calls to households to make use of its reporting service to help turbocharge these numbers.
Natasha Longson, head of investigations at the ICO, says: ‘Nuisance calls, texts and emails made by rogue operators blight people’s lives.
‘We rely on the public to report these to us so we can track down illegal operators but people can also protect themselves.’
Many people don’t know they can complain about nuisance callers. Others are put off reporting numbers that are harassing them because they change so quickly. You are rarely called by the same number twice.
Penalties: Under new rules, the maximum fine for firms found to be hounding people with unwanted sales calls will be raised from £500,000 to £17.5m or 4% of their global turnover
However, many companies are run by the same people and logging each and every number can be invaluable in helping the ICO link operations together. Each report is carefully sifted through by the watchdog’s case workers.
Earlier this year these investigators were able to trace five companies to more than 750,000 unwanted marketing calls targeted at older, vulnerable people.
The firms were all claiming to sell insurance products or services for white goods and household appliances — as in Norma’s case.
Similarly, a Glasgow-based business was fined £500,000 by the ICO last year after it was found to have made more than 193 million automated calls in 12 months. Making a complaint about nuisance callers is simple and can be done at ico.org.uk.
It will take you to an online form which asks a few basic questions including the number the call was made from and the name of the organisation.
There are three stages to the process and it should take just a few minutes to complete.
If you are not online, you can report nuisance callers by contacting the regulator’s helpline (0303 123 1113).
After noticing all of the calls Norma was receiving, Harriet, 51, took action and reported them on the ICO’s website.
She hopes that by passing on the numbers it will stop people like her aunt from being preyed on.
She says: ‘My aunt was a chief costume cutter for the Royal Shakespeare Company. She was such a creative and an absolute whizz. To see these callers taking advantage of her now she has dementia makes me sick.
‘At its worst she was being called around 40 times a day. Something needs to be done.’
Many of these businesses are believed to share information with one another or ‘sucker lists’.
These typically contain the details of elderly people and those suffering from dementia who have fallen victim to scams in the past.
You can also report spam texts on the ICO website.