Scams, Cold Calls and Junk

Almost as soon as I moved into my flat the cold calls started. I had to register with energy suppliers, which is when the calls about getting a smart meter began. Mostly I get phone calls about it, but I have had the occasional sales person call at my door. My previous energy supplier nearly managed to get me signed up to a smart meter, but before they came to fit it I made sure I read the booklet they sent me about it. I am glad I did, turns out on a prepay meter a smart meter is actually worse value for me than not having one. I would have had to change to a different tariff that would cost me more per unit, so I cancelled it. I also could not see much point in a smart meter when already being on a prepay meter. I can see how much gas and electricity I am spending when my meter goes down. I know myself what appliances I have switched on, so know what is using up my credit. Maybe smart meters are good for people who use billing, but not in my case.

Another energy supplier nearly got me to switch to them. I had already worked out the best deal for me and switched companies only a month earlier. I made the stupid mistake of letting a cold caller into my flat. He somehow got me to sign something which I feel rather stupid for having done so now. I realised almost as soon as I had done it that it was probably a mistake, so decided to do some online research about the company. They were not cheaper than my current company despite his claims as I was not on the average tariff, but on a much lower deal one. The company had very bad reviews for customer service. People complained of relentless cold callers who would not go away till they signed up. I tried to cancel my sign up, but they took so long to answer the phone sometimes I gave up and even when I did get through they kept failing to put me through to the right department. In the end my current company sorted it out for me, but even they struggled to get the company to cancel. I am glad I am aware of my right to cancel an energy switch over within fourteen days of signing up. I am also glad I am able to do my own online research, as I know some people are unable to do this. I had only been in my flat a few months at the time and it is the first time I have lived totally alone with my name on the energy supplier’s information. Anyone who moves into their first home alone is vulnerable as they have no experience in dealing with this kind of thing. Now I have a no cold callers sign on my door, say no thanks to them and shut the door on them.

Another group who regularly cold call people both on the phone and at the door are charities. They never get anywhere with me as they are asking directly for money which is not something I feel able to give a lot of, and I already give to charity in the form of time by volunteering. The elderly seem the most vulnerable to this kind of cold call. A recent consumer programme on the radio reported of people finding their elderly relatives bank accounts linked up by direct debits to lots of charities without the older person being aware of just how much money they were giving each month. Often these people are easily confused or suffering some kind of dementia and can not work out the long term costs or remember how many charities they have already signed up with. Charity giving is a good thing if you can afford it, but some of these people are struggling financially. A lot of charity cold callers work on commission and get a bonus for singing people up, and some have to sign up a certain number each day to even get paid at all. I do not always blame the cold caller, but the system they work under, the payment set up is geared so that vulnerable people are going to be targeted.

Then there is the fake or scam cold call. There is the now quite well known Microsoft computer scam who claim to be Microsoft themselves calling you and that they noticed a fault with your computer. They say they can fix your viruses or hacked computer over the phone if you follow the instructions they give you. However what they actually want is your bank details to pay for the so called service. Some of the scammers actually go so far as to get you to download a programme that lets them remotely control your computer and if you fail to comply with the instructions they start to delete your files! I know that a company such as Microsoft do not even do computer repairs on individual computers. They rang me once whilst I was at home and I had the enjoyment of telling them truthfully I have no internet in my flat and my laptop was switched off as it lives at my parents house (since they do have internet that is where it is most useful to keep it). The elderly are at risk from this scam sometimes as they often understand computers less well.

This article makes interesting reading on the scam,

There are various scam calls out there and a good rule of thumb is to never give bank details to anyone who rings you up.

Text messages are also used to try and get people to sign up to things. I have had texts from British Gas about smart meters, texts about phone deals when I was with EE and about online game deals. It is easy to delete a spam text, but disappointing when a text turns out to be spam since I do not get many texts.

Junk mail, the old fashioned way to try and part a fool and his money. However most of the junk I get is not even relevant to me. I do not own my flat so do not need building insurance, can not sell it and am not responsible for my drains (no matter how many times South West Water tell me that any drains on my property are my responsibility). Almost all my junk mail goes straight in the recycling sack. Some people in rented accommodation may sign up for some of the services on offer without realising their landlord is responsible for them, not them.

The internet is a whole other minefield of junk email, scams and banner adverts trying to sell you stuff. If you have a vulnerable family member who uses social media add them as your ‘friend’ so you can keep an eye on who they talk to and what things they are signing up to.

The learning and mentally disabled can be vulnerable to cold calls if they live alone without much. support. They can end up signing up for all kinds of things. Some are lonely and welcome any kind of human contact so let themselves be engaged into conversation with these people. Giving people more support when setting up a new home could help, teaching them how to get good energy deals and to ignore cold callers.

I gather the law is changing to make cold calls without prior consent illegal. However not from abroad, so I expect a lot of companies will just move their call centres. Also I am willing to bet that if it is a call from your own energy supplier or a company you already hired then it will count as prior consent as you already hire a service from them, even if they are trying to sell you something additional. Also what is going to count as prior consent, if it ticking or unticking boxes online when filling in forms, a lot of people are still going to get cold calls.

I think we can all be more careful what we agree to and sign up for. Also I think we should help the vulnerable in society more learn to deal with cold calls, scams and junk mail.

'You sound familiar. Haven't I swindled you once before?'


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