When the phone rings at home on a weekday I am suspicious. The only calls at that time are from people or robots selling me something. But this call was different. First of all, it wasn’t a withheld number. Secondly, it was a mature woman’s voice with a lilting Welsh accent. She sounded genuine. She was trying to get in contact with a neighbour of mine. She had written to her friend but the letter had been returned. Could I pop round with a message for the new occupier asking to pass on a message to call Wendy. As the house was only a few doors from me I didn’t think that would be an imposition. But I was curious to know how Wendy had obtained my phone number. She explained that she was on the internet and typed in the local postcode and found my phone number.

It would be really handy if such a lookup facility existed for the general public – but as far as I am aware it doesn’t – even 192.com is not that accommodating. I asked for the name of the website. Wendy told me it was called ASP. Since .asp is a webpage suffix it is possible that Wendy had got a bit mixed up. So this little old lady from Caerphilly had the nous to find out my home phone number but couldn’t remember the name of the website. I supposed that was possible but the incongruity was growing. I pressed further – could she not simply write again to the occupier. She could, but it would be quicker if I did it. Yes, quicker for her, but not for me. I felt I was being drawn unwittingly into somebody else’s world.
I didn’t want to pry, but what was the urgency, what was the letter about? It was marked private and confidential, you see. Finally, Wendy said that she did not know what was in the letter. She only dealt with returned mail. She worked for a company, she was in the post room. What sort of company is that? Well, it’s a “multi-service provider” she said. Suddenly I realised what was happening. The person at the other end of the phone portrayed herself as looking for a long lost friend and had randomly found my name on the internet which she barely understood. But then she used gobbledegook like “multi-service provider”. The game was up. I politely said that I was not able to assist and so the call ended.

There is a useful lookup site Who calls me which I checked to see who was calling me. It turns out they are a debt collection company. Its modus operandi includes calling neighbours. Previous visitors to the lookup site had conveniently posted the contact details of the organisation. I called up and registered a complaint. Of course, they don’t have a complaints register but I let it be known to the two people I spoke to that I felt their organisation was acting in an unethical way. I was told that their only obligation was to their clients. As a general member of the public I would have to make any complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. So fluent was the response that it is clear that they have this type of complaint fairly often.

I am aggrieved that my home phone number was accessed by a private company in the ruthless pursuit of a debtor. I was misled by the company as to the nature of its operation. The last time I had an unsolicited text message informing me I had won a dream holiday I reported it to the regulator. That company was fined.

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