It is very common that almost everyone has received at least one spam call in our lives. Spam messages are usually identified with spamming done through the means of electronic messaging system. This is mainly due to the cost effectiveness enjoyed by the company. The literal meaning of the word spam is, sending of same message indiscriminately to a large number of users. With reference to the above meaning, spam calls done by companies can be defined as follows. They are nothing but, sending of unwanted or unsolicited messages in bulk over phone through any digital delivery system, for the purpose of advertisement. This write up will elucidate on what are the various ways in which continuous spam calls by companies can be avoided.
Why spam calls are to be taken seriously?
Many may feel that, there is nothing on the part of the companies, beyond the intent to advertise their prospects. But spam calls are more than that. They are to be taken seriously and paid heed to, because spam calls are perilous as well as hazardous.[i] It is often done with an intention to steal data from call attendants over phone. Such illegal spam calls can be broadly classified into illegal robot calls and illegal scam calls. The first type comprises of calls from companies, which are not given permission to do spam calls, by the consumers. The second type also called scam calls are different from their counterpart, in a way as to who is speaking in the call. In the former, recorded telephonic audios are played whereas in the latter, some real person or an agent of the financial institution will speak in the call. The dangerous nature of spam calls can be comprehended by the fact that, complaints against spam calls were the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission in 2017. Americans made more than 5 million complaints about spam calls. Most of these calls are done with an intention to elicit information and private data.
What can be done?
- In order to avoid these calls, the most rudimentary method that everyone handpicks is none other than installing a call-blocking app. The other most common method is to block the particular number alone.
- But these approaches may not always help because effective call blocking feature of smart phones has failed to cope with the sophisticated technology designed to make spam calls reach all phones.[ii] One such technology is phone spoofing,[iii] which allows the companies to tactically place calls from a phone number other than the number that they are originally calling from. Neighbour spoofing is one step ahead as it makes the call recipient to believe that calls are made from his or her same locality.
- Moreover adding such numbers to block list or do not call list will not make any difference, as the illegal scam calls will continue to make their way into your mobile phones, whether or not such numbers are added to block list. However blocking a call can be done to restrict the legal spam calls.
- The other way to address this issue is by way of submitting a complaint before the Telecom Regulating Authority of India (TRAI), which is the chief regulating authority of all telecom related services in the country, through their app available on the Google Play Store.
- A plea made for not receiving unsolicited commercial communications, which has been registered in the National Do Not Call Register[iv] under Regulation 6 of the Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007 will proceed to serve the purpose. If this has not been done, then the following step can be pursued to remain free from unsolicited commercial calls or spam calls from companies.
- This is the most effective method. The aggrieved person will request Customer Preference Registration Facility for registering or deregistering or changing their preference, regarding the receipt of commercial communication.
- Each service provider will have to set up this facility as per the mandate of Regulation 3 of the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010.[v]
- The procedure to register or deregister a consumer’s preference regarding receipt of commercial communication is as follows.[vi]
- The person has to call the toll free number of Customer Preference Registration Facility and record his or her preference.
- A unique registration number will be given.
- In the contents of the Provider Customer Preference Register, the preference registered by the consumer will be updated accordingly, either fully blocked category or partially blocked category along with the name and phone number of the consumer, date and time of request for change of preference, the unique registration number and the details of his or her preference.
- If a case has not yet been redressed, the consumer may approach the Public Grievance Cell of Department of Telecommunications. The complaint may be lodged by written report or by post or through FAX or through telephone or by its Web Portal. All details like phone number, fax number, postal address will be available in the website of Public Grievance Cell of Department of Telecommunications (http://www.pgportal.gov.in/).
- If the consumer doesn’t get satisfactory results using the above said procedure, he or she can approach the District Consumer Redressal Forum (DCDRF), or the State Consumer Redressal Commission (SCDRC), depending on the amount that is to be claimed as compensation. This is so because encountering spam calls will fall into the case of ‘services availed of by a consumer suffering from deficiency’, which is within the jurisdiction of Consumer Forum.[vii]
- If the compensation claimed is less than Rs 1 crore, the consumer has to approach DCDRF. If it is more than Rs 1 crore but less than Rs 10 crores, SCDRC is to be approached. The hierarchy of appeal will be DCDRF, SCDRC, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) and the Supreme Court respectively.
- Nivedita Sharma V. Cellular Operators Association of India and others[viii] is a very important judgment in this regard. In the case, the Supreme Court set aside the order of High Court, saying it doesn’t have jurisdiction in the present case, thereby upholding the order of SCDRC. Where the petitioner had originally filed a complaint against Bharti tele-Ventures Ltd., ICICI Bank Ltd. And American Express Bank Ltd. and claimed damages of Rs 34,50,000 for the harassment, mental agony and financial loss incurred by her due to unsolicited calls on her phone from various banks and other financial institutions. The order passed by SCDRC said that all service providers shall ask to their consumers, as to whether they are interested in putting Do Not Disturb Service and act accordingly. Further it said that, any future transgression of this order will be deemed as non compliance with the order and will attract severe punitive damages along with sentence of imprisonment, which may be not less than 1 month and which may extend to a period of 3 years under Section 27 of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), 1986.
The survey taken by Truecaller app in 2019 in India asserted that, India is the country that is confronted with the highest number of spam calls in the whole world. Keeping in view, the everlasting hazards it is going to have on the safety and privacy of consumers of Telecom services, it is essential that, the entire issue has to be addressed. The easy availability of bulk number of phone numbers at certain places should be curbed. Guidelines and termination of charges exist only for spam messaging system. This service has to be extended and implemented for spam calls also. By doing all these, the safety and privacy of consumers of Telecom services can be ensured.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[viii] MANU/SC/1538/2011 and C.A. No. 10706 of 2011 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 17213 of 2010