Nuisance calls appearing to come from Simwood numbers

This is a bit of a departure for our blog as I’m writing this to be read by consumers rather than our usual audience of customers and our peers in the telecoms industry.

The reason I’m writing for consumers is that I feel it’s time we formally addressed the issue of nuisance calls with “spoofed” caller ID appearing to come from our network.

Why is Simwood calling me?

Simwood is almost definitely not calling you. We undertake no tele-marketing whatsoever, nor do we provide tele-marketing services to others. We are a wholesale telephone company, providing wholesale services to other phone companies, who in turn offer those to consumers and business.

But {Big Telephone company} said Simwood was calling me.

As a wholesale provider we have been allocated millions of phone numbers by Ofcom for use by our customers (this is called being the ‘range holder’). Recipients of nuisance calls may quite rightly call their own telephone provider (BT, Sky, TalkTalk etc) whose customer service staff tell them to contact the range holder (“You need to complain to Simwood”) or even worse mis-inform the person that it was the range holder that was calling them (“The calls were made by Simwood”). If you use an on-line information tool you will similarly be shown the range holder, not the end-user of the number.

How do I stop them?

Your first line of complaint should definitely be your service provider (BT, Sky TalkTalk etc).

If you have been the victim of a scam call you should report it to Action Fraud who will issue you with a police crime reference number and investigate further.

If you feel the calls are threatening or harassing in nature you should report it to your local police force by calling the non-emergency number: 101

If the call is unwanted marketing, you can opt out of them using the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). If you’ve already registered with the TPS and are still receiving calls you can complain to them and they will escalate the breach to the Information Commissioners Office who have the power to fine the perpetrator.

Following your complaint, your telco, the Police, the ICO etc. have established industry procedures and will usually get in touch with the range-holder. If we’re the range-holder and the call is genuinely from someone on our network we will take action but in the majority of cases the caller ID of the call has been falsified and the calls did not originate with one of our customers.

But it is a Simwood number calling me

Because we have so many phone numbers on our network, like any network, we sometimes find they are used for nuisance calls or fraudulent purposes.

We take a very dim view of fraud and we do everything in our power to automatically identify when our network is being used for fraud purposes; we do this to protect our customers, ourselves and most importantly the consumer. Earlier this year we published a VoIP Fraud Analysis paper and our CEO Simon Woodhead presented the findings at the quarterly LINX meeting in February. A video of the presentation can be seen here.

While we do a lot to combat fraud in our network there is one type of fraud we repeatedly hear about and unfortunately are powerless to stop: that’s fraudulent calls which don’t come from our network but have had their caller ID falsified to look like they do.

It’s your number, surely you can do SOMETHING?

If we can, we will, on receipt of an enquiry through the Police, ICO, or your own telephone provider. However, if the caller ID has been spoofed, as is the case in the majority of such calls we are unfortunately powerless to do anything.

It is analogous to someone sending you a letter via Royal Mail with FedEx’s address written as the sender – FedEx didn’t send it to you and has never handled that envelope but they’ll end up getting any replies. FedEx can’t stop you getting more even though it has their name on it. Royal Mail can as they are actually delivering the letter. Of course, if you reply to the FedEx address, it will go to FedEx just as if you ring one of the Simwood numbers it will come onto the Simwood network.

Accordingly, one thing we have been doing when we are notified of one of our numbers being used in this way is to take the number out of service (obviously this is harder if the number has been allocated to a customer and in that case we will have to work with our customer) and place a voice message informing callers that any calls appearing to come from this number should not be trusted. Of course this doesn’t stop the nuisance calls and it takes time to do and obviously means we can never use that phone number, but if it stops someone from getting scammed then we consider it worthwhile.

Ok, but surely SOMEONE can do SOMETHING?

Many of these types of call come from overseas and will pass through several different phone networks before getting to you. Your service provider will be able to trace which network actually sent them the phone call and then pass a complaint to that network who will in turn pass the complaint further up the chain. Unfortunately the ability to look through the data to find this information is quite manpower intensive and not usually something a customer support agent can do. Ofcom also handle complaints but will only have the information that you give them and don’t have any special access to service provider’s networks to “trace” calls or anything like that. Ofcom may choose to get in touch with us to confirm that the calls did not originate from our network.

But a {Big Telephone company} employee / my uncle / a bloke in the pub said caller ID spoofing was impossible!

We’ve heard this a lot – unfortunately caller ID spoofing is a very real issue. Back in August of 2013 we formally responded to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee inquiry into Nuisance Calls as we felt the regulatory environment did not reflect the reality. Much of what I’m talking about in this post is a repeat of what was mentioned in that response which you can read here.

But please don’t take our word for it, here are some links to well known sites discussing caller ID spoofing:

Why do they do this?

Caller ID is clearly visible on mobiles and many fixed-line phones nowadays and undoubtedly plays a factor in whether the call is answered. Withheld calls are often ignored, and phone companies are required to offer the ability to reject withheld calls. By faking a real number, and more-so a real number that is local to the party they’re calling, criminals can greatly increase the number of calls that get answered. Once answered, the use of a local number unfortunately hoodwinks people further into believing they’re legitimate.

Don’t you care? I’m going to call you at 3am!

If you’re reading this, we’re really grateful. We’re equally grateful to those who look us up and call the number on our website which means we can explain to them what has happened.

Unfortunately though, others take the mis-information about the origin of these calls and head straight to websites and forums where it spreads. Before you know it there is a small army of angry people blaming us for nuisance calls we had no part in. We understand the anger but it is mis-directed.

As we said in our response to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee inquiry into Nuisance Calls, this mis-information causes a second victim – us wrongly named as the perpetrator, or the legitimate user of a phone number which is being falsified. You have no reason to believe us but if you’ve read this far please do read some of the links given above and educate those you know.

We genuinely want to stop this problem and educate the public, so it hurts all our team to be threatened and abused by the misinformed about something we’re powerless to stop.