Monday 1 July 2013

Ambushcall telephone lifeline



When a long time ago  Alexander Graham Bell first invented the 'dog and bone' he didn't have such terms in his vocabulary as 'withheld numbers,' the 'TPS ' (telephone preference service) 'digital' 'analogue' 'choose to refuse' etc -  and nor did he expect he would be the start of one the biggest nuisances to our society.
These days we all  suffer from the backlash by depending on a vital gadget, nor is that gadget a a stair lift that many older folk  couldn't manage without.  It is because of our TELEPHONES. 
call center

Coming up  here is what many class as a swearword ....  the  'COLD CALLER'  -    alias the  'Telephone Canvasser' or 'Marker Researcher'   breed who have a unique skill of attempting to connect to our lives, and to impose upon your privacy, just as the meat is being carved, or the intro of a favorite TV program is being played. Whether at home or at work, whether an individual, or a small or large business - it happens to everyone, and it seems there is no escaping from an ever increasing tide of intrusion.

To begin, I'll just outline what those techie terms referred to previously mean. The TPS is a body formed by the government which is in fact a register that we can all join and declare our wish NOT to be cold called by anyone. The register is supplied to businesses that engage themselves in cold calling and no doubt the state receives a tidy sum in return from such companies for copies of it wishing to comply with the law. But whether you are simply a private person wishing to remain as such, or a corporate from a one man band to a large conglomerate - you will know that
cold callers persist at all hours of the day (and night) and simply ignore any legislation that exists.

Our client base - the older generation -  time after time report to us about the worry caused by cold callers who nearly always ring from withheld (or masked numbers) and can be rude persistent and down-right offensive. Often the caller doesn't speak (this is known as a silent call) and is probably because it is a computer dialing lots of homes/businesses at once, and its' operators cannot speak to everyone at once.

At Castle Comfort we are and have been for years the victim of hoards of cold callers who attack our time on a daily basis. They think we will just drop what we are doing by trying to create some interest in a huge variety of services and products.  If I attempted to create a list of examples, readers here may be delayed in their day for hours. But, briefly - probably advertising mediums are the worst offenders  (primarily Yellow Pages and Thompson Directories, with a Stoke on Trent radio station a close runner-up)   Then we have website promotion and design people from all over the world,  and of course the inevitable claim and PPI set ups, most of which employ robot-style voice recordings. 
Zeppelin / Blimp

One Sunday morning recently, with a little time to spare,  for a laugh -  I told one young Asian sounding lady, who politely enquired if I had an accident in recent years, that yes I had. For some inexplicable reason I told her I was piloting a Zeppelin balloon over the Retiro Park in Spain - and David Beckham crashed into me with his Real Madrid hot air balloon. The next day the lady's colleague called me back asking if I had any registration numbers and photographic evidence!

We understand what it it like to earn a living and nobody within our organisation wishes to be rude. But those making the cold sales approaches are initially asked to put in an email what they offer and then they will receive a reply. But such a civilized response gives a green light to call again.... and again .. and again. 

Some measures can be taken.   Years ago we discovered the benefits of a British Telecom system called Choose to Refuse.   It costs a modest quarterly fee, but enables a code to be fed into the receiving handset after an unwanted call, which effectively bars that number from being connected again. It even works with masked (withheld) numbers and international ones. We have, over the years at Castle Comfort Centre recommended this service to clients - and many appreciate it and continue to subscribe.  On more than one occasion we have emailed the TPS reporting  persistent offenders, but can only recall one belated reply. But that was to contact another department of the bureaucracy and and for them to deal with it. It all seemed a complicated affair, so we didn't bother. We are of the opinion that the TPS is a bit of an ineffective 'quango' and in times of saving money our government should really re-think its existence.

But now back to good old enterprise. In recent times we came across the service of a  company called AmbushCall, who originate, we think, from Israel but are now based in the United States. For a modest few pounds a month they have offered a service which effectively unmasks a blocked number.   It works like this... when a withheld or unavailable number arrived on your mobile phone (apparently it was about to soon be offered to landlines) all the subscriber had to do was to reject the call, effectively diverting it to a secret number (their server) and then a few seconds later,  Ambush call would send a text and then email with the caller's number.  It works.  We have used it for several months.

The UK press, more than once, have reported people discovering who was illegally stalking them, and because the police weren't the slightest bit interested, they took matters in their own hands and with an Ambush Call service package caught the offender red handed.  Read  THIS  -  or  this -    you will be well impressed, that is if you agree that others who cause misery with offensive, illegal and malicious activity on a phone (hiding their ID) should not get away with it.  This guy didn't - his ex-girlfriend made sure of it!

Now, readers, I know many of you  are now all looking up to how to subscribe to Ambush Call. Sadly, another British irritation, for the moment anyway,  has put the damper on all this. We come to inevitable  'red tape'. But when red tape is the law of this land, it has to be respected and adhered to.  Ofcom, the government regulatory body in communications,  this week, we are informed,  took action again the providers of Ambush Call's equipment, we believe to be sited in London and effectively closed it down. It is, apparently, against the law for anyone to unmask the telephone number (or for someone to assist in that, by supplying systems that do such a thing) of someone choosing to keep it private.  As we write, calling directly to Ambush Call's number (their server) - a recorded message is played.  It announces that there is a possible 'fraud investigation' currently going on.  Ambush Call have emailed all their UK subscribers, including ourselves, informing them that this is considered to be slander and will be challenged.

But in essence, Ambush Call's service has been closed down in the UK.  So a system that for a couple of pounds - enabled anyone to trace an anonymous caller,  be it heavy breather,  canvasser,  bank robber or rapist (or just a bloody nuisance!) - has been stopped.  Why?  Because of an Ofcom regulation,  but seemingly supported by law.  We wish Ambush Call well with their battle - however,  nothing short of a change in whatever legislation it is, will give them a chance.

What do you think? Is this innovative business who have discovered a harmless and inexpensive method of unmasking the identity of those callers deliberately hiding their numbers when they call, really acting in a criminal way?

A point to consider - there is no such thing as a withheld number. What happens, is that the operators of the telephone service can simply NOT DELIVER that number to the receiver ie present the 'CID', the caller identification. Of course, some organizations are exempt of this law. The police and emergency services when receiving emergency numbers can see the number of the caller even if withheld. Nobody would complain about that 
But there are rather more cases, and some would say dubious examples, whereby it seems others are allowed to see privately witheld numbers for their own benefits, rather than in the interest of security and decency. We suspect many local authorities may be privilege to this facility.  I know certainly the TV licensing people are, with their national 0300 numbers. A friend of mine called them once complaining that he was being harassed by endless threatening letters about him not  having TV a license. He has never had a TV in his life - just a radio. In fact he is in blind. But since calling that 0300 number from his private phone, with the number kept out of  the  perfect sight of others  - he has had calls back, to 'double check' the facts. 


No So Smart
On many occasion I have called for a taxi from my own personal mobile (the number being kept private ie not shown for different reasons) ... and the taxi base operator actually knew my number! I don't have a problem with that but surely what is good for the goose...

Having a hunch that others may be able to do this I today performed a fascinating experiment. I called the BT operator on 100 and asked him if he could tell me my number as I had  'more or less forgotten it and wasn't sure what it was.'  He said at first he could not tell me directly, but he could confirm what it was,  if I took a guess at it. I gave him the first three digits and he gave me the rest.  He confirmed he could see my withheld number, but he didn't want to comment on my thoughts that  it it wasn't very democratic!  So yes, BT don't appear to have to comply with the law. But most of the rest of the 60 million of us in the UK, do.

We welcome comments! This is indeed going to be a busy blog - for stairlifts users and shoppers and many others.

If you suffer from unwanted approaches on a regular basis, tell us your story.

UPDATED 11/12/14

Here's Keith the Managing Director appearing on BBC Radio with his methods on raising money for charity by asking for donations from annoying telephone canvassers.

If you are looking for the Castle Comfort Stairlifts legendary website to avoid the hard sell phone canvassers call us on 0800 007 6959