“Your Internet is getting disconnected…” That’s all I heard before I put the phone down on the recording of the rather improbably well-spoken girl with the posh English voice. This will be the fourth nuisance call I’ve had this morning. Four and counting.
The first call came at 7:45 followed by another 15 minutes later. This wasn’t very helpful as I’d been awake all night suffering with the usual Sunday night insomnia. I’d slept intermittently, and lightly, once or twice but after I switched my alarm off at 7:00 I’d started to get some proper sleep. It always seems easier to sleep after the alarm has gone off and may be related to the release of anxiety after the alarm has gone off.
Another call arrived at about 9:15, although I don’t remember the time exactly as I was beginning to have trouble keeping track. Then there was another at 09:36am. (I know that’s accurate as I’ve now started a spreadsheet.) Before today there was one every morning over the weekend at about 7:45 and a few days last week. Some of them are silent, some the recorded voice, others I was too tired to register what happened.
I’m beginning to think I’ve offended the gods of telephony. I suppose that would be Hermes, or Mercury depending on who your classics teacher was. I didn’t do classics but I got Stephen Fry’s book for Christmas so I can name-drop the gods.
We all know this phenomena. A brief search of Guardian articles over the last few years reveals articles on scam calls about PPI, claims management, and more. “Keurboom Communications fined record £400,000 over nuisance calls” says one Guardian headline. The UK government is slowly, ever-so-slowly, responding to this digital pandemic. The PPI calls seem to have stopped but probably only because the window has closed on the claims deadline. I still occasionally get calls from someone trying to sell me oven cleaning services, when will that window close?
I work from home and take on contracts as a technical author. It’s hard for me to make a living without giving people the opportunity to call me. Plus I’ve always been a bit needy and I once got out of the bath to answer the phone, at which point I bought an extension lead so I didn’t have to. I’ve always found it difficult to not know who was calling but I’m of a different generation to people today who will ignore calls based on caller ID.
Ofcom or the Information Commissioners Office (one handles communications and broadcasting the other deals with personal data) will act on companies based in the UK, as…
That was another call at 10:12am, the same English woman with the posh voice. I’m no longer swearing at her.
…as they did with Keurboom. That name has to be a sarcastic choice. I guess Kerboom wasn’t available from Companies House. You can wonder at the director’s glee in the process of registering the name. ‘Kerboom! Lot’s of cash landing in the bank!’ Someone with that attitude clearly deserved more than the £1500 and £1000 fines levied on the two directors. Companies House doesn’t say what their turnover was, or at least I’m not enough of a forensic accountant to understand what I’m looking at.
But fines of British registered companies are only a solution to a small part of the problem. A Guardian article from 2018 tells how the scams work in India. In the UK many of us have received calls from the Philippines and elsewhere so we know it’s a global problem. There’s little the British government can do in the face of scammers from the rest of the world.
Talk to many people in Britain and they will say they no longer answer the phone to numbers that don’t show up on caller ID. But is that an option for many people in the gig economy? With the results of Brexit, and the collapse of the economy due to the COVID pandemic, more and more people are turning to their wits to make a living. Gig economy jobs, where you have to make yourself available for contact, are the only option. My last contract ended in June and I’ve had no work since. I have to answer the phone because occasionally I get calls from agencies. Spending my time writing that difficult second novel isn’t going to generate an income any time soon.
A Guardian article from 2019 says that the UK gig economy accounted for 4.7 million jobs. It’s probably more by now. If 4.7 million people stop answering their phones when there’s a chance of work it would have an impact on the incomes of those people and the knock on effect to the wider economy could be more significant still. If people do answer their phones then there is an impact on mental health; I can vouch for that.
But if the international trade in scam calls is the big picture then there is an even bigger one. Over the last year we’ve re-evaluated the relationship of the western industrialised nations with the rest of the world. How we came to be so far ahead (so much richer) is now much clearer to us after the education that has taken place after the Black Lives Matter protests. We’ve finally admitted that the Industrial Revolution, the first one, was funded by the slave trade. After that reassesment it’s now easy to argue that the rich populations of the industrialised west don’t deserve the comfort and security afforded to us by wealth built on the back of the likes of Edward Colston and the East India Company. Of course our grand-parents, most frequently falling prey to the scammers, didn’t create the situation but populations of the developing world might be more concerned about their elderly than ours. The 2018 article on the scammers in India makes it clear that some people don’t like the business of scamming but more are prepared to do it, most probably out of desperation when good office jobs might be over-subscribed by as much as 1000 to one.
Back in the summer, at a socially distanced party in a friend’s garden, my mobile rang with another scammer on the line. I made one of my practiced jokey responses. At the time I wasn’t as hassled as I have been recently, and I’d had a beer, so I was in a better mood. As my friends listened in, some smirking, some curious or just confused, I explained that I wasn’t the person being asked for because I’d stolen the phone and killed owner in a frenzied attack. There was blood on the mobile and I really ought to clean it up. Sometimes I just tell the scammer that the person they are asking for is dead, in the hope that they will amend their database, but I’m sure it doesn’t make any difference. I still get the calls but it breaks up my day to play with them some times.
After the short call was over various friends commented but one friend asked why I treated the caller in such a way. “Because they are criminals,” I responded. He pointed out they were probably struggling to find a job in a terrible economy and working for the scammers was their only option. He then went on to make me feel even worse by explaining how, when he gets scam calls, he engages them in conversation to ask about their life and swap stories about how he once worked in a call centre and how bad it was. I can vouch for that as I got my first break in publishing by writing articles for free while teleselling advertising space for a magazine.
It’s 12:31 and, by some amazing coincidence, the phone just rang again. No really, you couldn’t make it up. This time it must have been a different scammer as it was a woman with a heavy accent giving a name I couldn’t catch despite me trying to engage her in conversation. She said she was from, “The Technical Department of BT Openreach.” Judging by the time of day it’ll be, perhaps, her thirtieth call today, her thirtieth rejection. I know what that’s like. I didn’t manage to sell much advertising space. She’s going to make another thirty calls, perhaps, more. My target in telesales was 70 dials a day, fewer if I got to speak to a decision maker.
These calls are a result of the imbalance in the world, between rich and poor, between developed and developing nations. Young people in nations with an increasingly educated population turn to anything to make a living. Some do worse by turning to violence. This is a consequence of the actions of our forebears. It doesn’t make it right for any of the parties involved. The only solution seems to be for governments to work together, which does happen and the Indian authorities do close down some operations. However, the Guardian article describes whole industrial districts that are known to be bases for nothing but scammers. The money that flows through those organisations into their populations benefits the economies of the countries where it takes place. There isn’t really an incentive to fix it.
This will end when the inequality between nations is lessened, when the flow of cash has levelled the pressure. However, the levelling up is being funded by grannies in the west, the naive, the uneducated, the elderly, those people in the developed world who can afford it least.
In the meantime I’m going to turn off my phones, try to get some sleep and hope that nobody phones me about a proper job.
The phone’s ringing!