Sign up to Bloctel but don’t expect miracles

The Connexion asks the government and a consumer watchdog a question on the lips of many Connexion readers: How to stop the plague of daily unwanted cold calls?

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Nuisance telephone calls, often from companies touting for business to install home insulation for €1, are infuriating people across France, including many Connexion readers.

The French fraud department said it has received “several complaints” of people reporting up to 20 unwanted calls a day.

Insulation for €1 is a genuine offer but the Direction des Fraudes says it has not only led to nuisance calls but also to poor-quality work (see here).

Reader Georgina King, who runs a chambres d’hôtes at Cézac, Lot, said: “We get seven calls a day on average, trying to sell us insulation.

The maximum has been 15. They interrupt meals, our whole life.

“But because I run a chambres d’hôtes and most French clients call, I cannot ignore the phone.

“I know people who no longer answer at all but this could lead to a disaster – what if you had a call about a family member in trouble?

“There seems no point blocking numbers as the companies then just use a new one.”

Reader Ian Hitchman said he is still plagued even though he had insulation work done.

He said: “I accepted a caller’s proposition for €1 insulation.

“Two Romanian men came for two hours and I paid €1 but on the paperwork the bill to EDF was €2,001. The company was registered but the men were clearly unskilled.

“I am glad I had it done as I’d have paid €1,000 otherwise but the calls still come every day.”

Several public authorities have put notices on their websites warning people not to respond to these calls.

They point out that some firms portray themselves as semi-official – for example, carrying out a poll into environmental work – but say official bodies never contact the public in this way.

Telephone cold calls are not illegal unless they are dishonest or aggressive, but companies can incur fines of up to €75,000 if they continue to phone anyone who has signed up to Bloctel (see below).

Companies should consult Bloctel lists before starting call campaigns.

However, a spokesman for the government environment and energy agency Ademe said Bloctel does not always work.

He said: “Firms use several techniques to contact clients and Bloctel does not always stop them. We understand it can be disagreeable but there is not much we can do.”

No-one from Bloctel could be found to answer Connexion’s many requests for an interview.

The Ministry of Economy, responsible for Bloctel, which is run by a private company, was unable to find anyone to answer why Bloctel does not work well but said it was an “important subject”. The contract to run the service is up for renewal in 2021.

A ministry spokesman said four million people have signed up, listing eight million numbers, and 285 firms were punished last year. Some have been named on its website.

Ardennes MP Pierre Cordier tried to change the law last year to introduce an opt-in system, as used in many other European countries, where consumers can only be contacted if they agree to canvassing calls. It was debated in parliament but not adopted.

All operators are obliged to provide a free liste rouge, where your number will not be published in a directory or given out for commercial or other reasons.

Another, the liste orange, means they will not pass on numbers for marketing calls but they will appear in directories.

Orange says its liste rouge means your name, address and number will not appear in directories and it cannot sell or give your number to a third party.

However, it does not stop unwanted calls if you then give your number to other commercial outlets – for example, when you sign up for a fidelity card.

Marie-Christine Cabal-Dubourg, director of product offers and services for Orange France, says a wide range of businesses, including telephone operators, sell lists of numbers which can be used for sales calls.

The best way to reduce unwanted calls is to restrict who you give your number to.

Another Orange free option is its anti-prospection list, when your name will appear in telephone directories but with a pictogram which shows you do not want to be canvassed. However, she admitted this does not always stop companies ringing.

A third option is its STOP SECRET service, which costs €2 a month and filters calls.

If a number is hidden, or if a company is using a false number to hide behind another number, which she says is a common technique, the call is intercepted, and Orange will ask the client whether they want to accept the number or not.

The Orange mobile phone app will indicate to what degree you should be wary of a number which is not in your contact list, and you can stop and block it for the future.

It is free and can be used by non-Orange customers. Cyril Brosset, a journalist for Consumer magazine UFC-Que Choisir, said: “Many firms ignore Bloctel as the sanctions are not strong enough and there’s not enough personnel to police companies.

“We advise people to add their number to the Bloctel list, as it is free and easy to do, but it is unlikely to dramatically reduce the number of calls.

“We do not advise reporting nuisance calls to Bloctel, though, as this is a lengthy procedure and does not seem to have any useful follow-up.”

He said companies buy lists of numbers, though it is still not clear exactly how this works.

“The most radical way of stopping commercial calls is to change your number and only give the new one to people you want to ring you. Perhaps for some it would be a solution.”

Once companies have your number, they use different numbers, local prefixes or automatic calling systems, or they may mask their number.

On August 1 this year, the telecoms regulator Arcep introduced regulations to force oper-ators to block any international call hiding behind a local French number.

It also made it illegal for automatic calling systems to use mobile numbers. This will be extended to 01-05 French landlines from January 1, 2021.

You can buy blocking devices you can install yourself to add to your landline, or apps for your phone. Que Choisir says most operators have them and they work, up to a point.

Some are boxes that attach between the phone and line.

For example, €54.90 Clibase V6 will block anonymous, foreign and night-time calls, and for €79.90 it will also give a message to the caller, demand identification, reject automatic calls and store 500 numbers.

Reader Norman Joseph said: “I have not had one caller since I had a screener installed. It is not a solution for businesses as the message may put off potential clients pursuing their call.”

Mr Brosset said: “It is difficult to resolve, there is no miracle solution, but it is outrageous the public should be hassled by unsolicited calls and we urge the government to put more resources into the matter.”

What is blocking service and how does it work?

Anyone who does not wish to receive cold calls can subscribe to the Bloctel service and, in theory, opt out of receiving canvassing calls.

The free-to-use government-backed service is run by private company Oppostel and allows people to have their landline or mobile phone number removed from commercially-available telephone lists.

It launched in 2016 in response to changes in the law and replaced Pacitel, which was widely reported not to work. It takes 30 days from filling in the form at for the service to become fully active.

Those who then continue to receive nuisance calls can report the incident – and the number of the caller – but the process of reporting is lengthy and complicated.

Many subscribers complain that Bloctel has failed to reduce the number of unwanted sales calls they receive – even if they have gone through the reporting process.