Our response to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee inquiry into Nuisance Calls

The Culture, Media & Sport Committee is holding an inquiry into nuisance telephone calls and text messages, focusing on the current regulatory system and its enforcement. They are seeking practical suggestions from communications providers. We have submitted the below written evidence which you may find of interest.

Response to The Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into nuisance telephone calls and text messages

This response is made by Simwood eSMS Limited, a UK based Network Operator providing wholesale services to Communication Providers.

August 8th 2013

We wish to comment on the request for “practical measures by communications services providers to curtail such communications” specifically in respect of telephone calls.

Historically, a phone number could be considered a reliable indicator as to the origin of a phone call, since it corresponded to a physical connection to a provider’s network and the provider was trusted to mark calls originating from it accordingly.

This is no longer the case and the phone number a call appears to come from is categorically not a reliable indicator of where it actually came from. In just the same way as consumers may receive Phishing e-mails, the origin of phone calls can be and is routinely falsified. This is trivially easy to do and is exploited by nefarious parties to enhance answer rates by, for example, making a call appear to originate from the callee’s local area.

Industry, the regulatory environment and public perception do not reflect this reality and in some cases unhelpfully deny it.

We are allocated a large number of UK telephone numbers by OFCOM, which are in turn sub-allocated to our Communications Provider customers.  Generally calls to those numbers traverse our network and it is correct that we should be the point of contact for investigations relating to them in our capacity as the Range Holder.

Calls ostensibly from those numbers are not in any way guaranteed to originate from our network and it is possible, and common in the case of Nuisance Calls, that they do not. The current practice by the Incumbent and authorities of referring investigations to the Range Holder assumes that they do.

We have unfortunate experience of calls being made to innocent members of the public where the originating number was falsified to be one within our ranges. In every case to date the perpetrator has selected a number that is not in service and therefore will not receive incoming calls, at least saving an innocent end-user from wrongful accusation. However, in every case the customer’s provider, typically the Incumbent, have routed enquiries to us as Range Holder. In some cases the victim has been given our name as the perpetrator or our suggestion that origin can be spoofed has been denied. Yet, in every case we were powerless to intervene as the calls did not traverse our network since their origin was falsified. We have in the past sought help from OFCOM but did not receive a reply.

Our recommendation is that the telephone number is assumed to be an unreliable indicator of origin and investigations focus on where calls actually originated. Every network knows which interconnected network passed it the call and it is therefore possible to trace back from the victim to the ultimate perpetrator without unnecessarily involving or implicating the Range Holder. This does mean more work for the victim’s provider and others in the chain but is a means of actually solving the problem rather than creating a second victim as the current process does.

This does of course require extensive education, which we would suggest may be usefully extended to the general public. It is sad to learn of victims who were only duped because the call had a local number and they, often elderly, trusted it to be so.