Unauthorised telephone advertising as penetrative as never before

22. February 2022 Published by Raphael Doerr

“Whether it’s a lottery, a magazine subscription or a contract to supply electricity – if you’ve never agreed to such advertising calls, you shouldn’t really be getting them,” writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung.  Actually, because unauthorised telephone advertising is no longer an exception, but rather the rule. Last year alone, the German Federal Network Agency received about 80,000 complaints about unauthorised telephone advertising. That is more than ever before and an increase of 26 percent compared to the previous year, according to the agency. The number of unreported cases is probably much higher, because not all telephone customers complain. In August 2009, the German government passed a law against unauthorised telephone advertising. But looking at the current figures, this does not seem to bother anyone. According to consumer protection agencies, it is mainly telephone and internet service providers, energy suppliers, banks, insurance companies and magazine publishers who call consumers specifically to offer them their products and services, reports mdr Ratgeber. Increasingly, however, dubious companies are sailing under false flags. They pretend to be “consumer advice centres” or “consumer protection services” – hoping to use the good reputation of the consumer advice centres for their rip-offs.  And more and more advertising callers are using suppressed numbers or numbers that change every day to get through to consumers. This makes it particularly difficult to recognise advertising calls and prevent them from coming in. But what can be done about it and which phones even help to detect and block unwanted advertising calls? In this blog post, we want to take a closer look at this.

A contract is a contract

Legislation provides that telephone advertising is anti-competitive without the express consent of the consumer. Consumers are often taken by surprise by offensive sales tactics and unfair tricks on the phone and are talked into it. The result: they sign unwelcome contracts that are virtually talked into them or foisted on them. And according to the Consumer Advice Centre Hamburg, many of them are perfectly valid and by no means illegal. “Even though it is good news that in some areas contracts can no longer simply be concluded over the phone, these regulations still do not apply to many sectors. Contracts for financial products or insurance, newspaper subscriptions or dietary supplements can still be effectively concluded orally over the phone.”   Although consumers are protected from contracts that are foisted on them over the phone in certain areas, such as lotteries and, more recently, energy supply contracts as well as in the telecommunications sector, the protective measures taken do not yet go any further. Many contracts concluded on the phone are legally valid and do not have to be additionally confirmed in writing. In these cases, consumers only have the right of withdrawal. So it is not surprising that companies continue to use the telephone for advertising that is not permitted.

The scam is always the same

According to winfuture magazine, citizens are most frequently harassed by unauthorised advertising calls about energy supply products, followed by insurance and financial products. Currently, the trick with an ominous “Federal Office for Electricity Prices” is used very often on the phone, which refers to alleged new rules through which electricity customers could profit from low electricity prices. In the course of this, the callers request a “data comparison” and ask for the meter number. In other cases, allegedly low tariffs for green electricity are advertised and customers are urged to change their contract. They were also informed about cases where the callers claimed that the customers had an electricity contract that would lead to an “automatic contract change” in case of a change in electricity prices, which could be done right now over the phone.

The German Federal Network Agency

Anyone who receives advertising calls without consent or even though an advertising revocation has been issued can report this to the Federal Network Agency at www.bundesnetzagentur.de/telefonwerbung-beschwerde and file a complaint. Consumers can submit complaints in two ways:

– via an online form: Online complaint (barrier-free)

– or via the complaint form of the Federal Network Agency. The form can be filled out directly on the computer and is available as a download here: Complaint form

The Federal Network Agency then investigates the complaints, examines them and imposes fines as soon as the evidence allows. Last year, it imposed fines amounting to 1.4 million euros.

As reported by Wirtschaftswoche, the authority will be able to take action against unsolicited advertising calls more easily as of 1 October 2021. Companies that want to sell products or services over the phone must document the consumer’s prior consent to the call and keep it for five years. This is prescribed by the new Fair Consumer Contracts Act, from which individual regulations are now coming into force.

However, the process of tracing is usually lengthy and also presents the authority with problems time and again. This is because during its investigations, the Federal Network Agency discovered a significant increase in the number of advertising calls, where the callers either did not provide the recipients with a telephone number at all or abusively set up a false telephone number, which often changes in a daily rhythm. This makes it particularly difficult to recognise advertising calls and to prevent them from being received.  The fine for number suppression in the case of advertising calls was previously 10,000 EUR. Since 1 December 2021, a new fine applies here: 300,000 euros. It will be interesting to see how the development continues in 2022. According to many experts, the complaints received by the Federal Network Agency and the consumer centres are only the tip of the iceberg. It would be better if contracts that come about due to telephone advertising did not apply at all. This is also demanded by the Federal Association of Consumer Centres (VZBV) and, in view of the latest figures, reiterated its call for the introduction of a general confirmation solution for long-term contracts concluded by telephone. According to the ideas of the consumer protection organisations, verbal agreements should only be valid if they are subsequently confirmed in writing by the customer.

Acting instead of reacting

What can consumers do against unauthorised telephone advertising on their landline? Of course, they have to report the calls to the Federal Network Agency, but that does not mean that the telephone advertising will automatically stop. Well, you don’t have to answer the phone when it rings, just let it ring, eventually they’ll give up, or not. You can do that, but the ringing could be annoying. Inside Digital advises to “prevent telephone advertising with a so-called CardDAV integration in the Fritzbox. These are client-server protocols for address books; that means the spam is made transparent by phone numbers that are stored in this address book and are assessed as a risk.” Sounds technical, is technical and for many consumers this is a mystery. It’s easier when the phone takes over. As Gigaset offers with the CL690A SCB landline phone. Because it has a “Smart Call Block”, an intelligent protection against unwanted calls. Unknown numbers are automatically compared with the entries in the tellows online database. Depending on the rating, the telephone remains silent or the caller hears a busy signal.

Gigaset CL690A SCB blocks unwanted calls for you

Unwanted calls remain a problem, even in the fixed network. That’s why Gigaset has integrated call diversion into its landline phones.

This gives customers full control over all incoming calls. When the phone rings, the device also displays the full name of other callers, provided they are entered in a public phone book. On the other hand, the caller’s rating appears on the display with a coloured background and in four levels from “trustworthy” to “dangerous”. If the relevant information is available, the user receives additional information such as “aggressive advertising”, “cost trap” or “opinion research”.  Especially important, the dynamic system is constantly learning through the experiences of many users who can evaluate all calls. So you always get up-to-date, comprehensive protection through an intelligent, cloud-based service. The Gigaset C430A GO also has the SCB function.

Info box: What does Smart Call Block mean?

A “Smart Call Block” is a call protection system from tellows. The database of the tellows smartphone app, which has existed for many years and into which users can enter suspicious numbers, serves as the data basis. If someone calls from a suspicious number, this is indicated accordingly on the display of the Gigaset CL690A SCB or the call is rejected. The rejected caller then only hears a busy signal. Private call numbers are explicitly excluded from barring, and only well-known branding companies or advertising companies and their call centres are included in the database. The callers are classified in four steps by colours: Green indicates an unproblematic private caller, white an unknown number. Yellow is used to classify market research companies, the red mark is assigned to aggressive advertisers. Tellows wants to prevent the manipulation of telephone number ratings through “tight control”.

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