What is cold calling?

Posted bySophie Knight | Category Blog | Date 11 September 2017

Have you ever been called by an unknown number trying to sell you door frames, or someone claiming that “they have been made aware that you have recently been in a car accident that wasn’t your fault”? Well, this is cold calling.


The definition of cold calling is the solicitation of business from potential customers who have never had prior contact with the salesperson who is conducting the call.

The purpose of cold calling is to attempt to convince potential customers to purchase the product or service that the salesperson is trying to sell through the call.

Is Cold Calling Legal?

Cold calling is an over-the-phone process, making it technically a source of telemarketing, however it also comes in the form of door-to-door salespeople. Instead of calling, they will knock on your door and give the pitch in the hopes of selling you a product or a service.

Although cold calling is technically a legitimate business tool, scammers also typically use it to complete their scams.

So, cold calling is not illegal per se. Nevertheless, the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 imposed restrictions on marketing in the form of cold calls, and unsolicited texts, emails and faxes. The 2003 Regulations require companies to obtain an individual’s consent before sending marketing communications to them. If this is the case (you gave your consent), it is legal.

When is cold calling illegal?

Cold calling is illegal when an automated calling system automatically initiates a sequence of called to more than one destination. Furthermore, if it transmits sounds that are not live speech, such a recorded message which is played in place of an actual sales person. All of which are targeted at people at the other end. Again, the 2003 Regulations forbid the use of such automated communications for the purposes of marketing and sales.

However, if someone had given their explicit prior consent to a company to send them such communications, it is not illegal for the company to make automated calls to them at all. Moreover, where the use of automated calling systems is permitted, the caller is obliged to provide their name and address, or free phone number. Their phone number must also be clearly displayed to the recipient of the call.

The use of a fax machine may also mean that the cold calling is illegal. The 2003 Regulations also prohibits a company from sending unsolicited marketing faxes to individuals. This includes sole traders. This again, is the case if the company does not have prior consent/permission to  send marketing faxes to the individuals. Albeit, Faxes can actually be sent to a company which has not registered its fax number with the Fax Preference Service register. The sender of the fax must always display, by law, their name and contact address or free phone number for it to be a legal process.

As discovered, it is not illegal for to make a live cold call for general marketing purposes, subject to the following exceptions. However, the 2003 Regulations prohibits the use of live cold calls where:

  • The individual has made it clear they do not wish to receive such calls
  • The recipient’s number is listed in the Telephone Preference Service register or the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register.

An individual or a company will not be believed to have contravened the Regulations where the phone number has been listed with the Telephone Preference Service register or on the Corporate Telephone Preference Service register for less than 28 days when the cold call is made.

Cold calling is legal when and only when the caller is required every single time to provide their name and address, or a free telephone number.

Use of unsolicited emails may also makde cold calling illegal under certain circumstances.

The 2003 Regulations 2003 prohibits companies from sending unsolicited marketing emails to individuals except when:

  • the recipient has provided express consent
  • The recipient is an existing customer who has previously bought (or negotiated to buy) a similar product or service, and the company provided a simple means to opt out both when the company first collected their details and in every message it has sent.

If it is legal, the sender will have avoided disguising or concealing their identity. Again, they must provide an address that is valid to which the recipient can request such communications must stop.

Please also be aware that that these rules apply to all digital marketing; such as texts, picture messages, video messages, voicemails, and direct messages via social media. If you ever receive an unsolicited direct message marketing a product or a service via the medium of social media, the company behind it has broken the law, the cold calling is illegal and can be reported.

How do you remove cold callers?

When you get a cold call, most people simply put the phone straight down. Having to listen is annoying, since you know it’s a cold call. But asking them to take you off works. They have to remove your number by law, since you are not consenting to their marketing services via call, text, social media, email or fax.

To make sure they remove your number, claim you have already asked them to remove your number and you are not putting up with it anymore – this should hopefully ensure they comply as they do not want to be reported for misconduct.

Always tell them you are registered with Telephone Preference System (TPS), even if you are not.  Ask for the name of the company, and then you can go on to report them to TPS and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), or just claim that you will as a threat.

Some people, according to the Guardian, find results in messing with the sales person. This could be by staying silent for the whole time or walking away with the phone still going (the salesperson will be the one paying for the call). Others chose to partake in some role play by pretending they are someone else.