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Have Your Say: Automated debt calls

Telephone ringing off the hook
The system is supposed to give a gentle reminder to customers

There is concern about banks using new computerised telephone technology, as a way of contacting customers in debt.

The technology, which encourages customers in arrears to pay what they owe, is called Interactive Voice Messaging.

Instead of a bank employee from a call centre contacting you about a missed payment, you are rung by the computerised messaging system.

But Money Box has been told by one listener that he feels he has been harassed by the high number of calls from the automated system.

Have you been contacted by an automated calling system?

Was it a useful way of alerting you to a problem?

Perhaps you feel you have been harassed by a lender.

Or maybe you have been employed in a call centre, chasing debts.

Do you think a computerised caller would be more effective?

We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below. The debate is now closed.

MOST RECENT COMMENTS:

I assumed they were phishing calls
Sally, London
I have been getting numerous calls from a bank. Until I heard your programme I assumed they were phishing calls. I was totally put off by the way my name was inserted in the message by computer and assumed that it could not be genuine. Later the voice sounded more normal but I rang off as soon as I was asked to input information. I did inadvertently miss a payment on my credit card but paid in full as soon as I got the next statement. I did get a letter (after I had paid) suggesting I pay by direct debit to which I have gratefully agreed.
Sally, London

Debt problems can occur for a number and/or a combination of reasons, not only fecklessness or dishonesty. How can hounding someone six or eight times a day help? This happens even when the 'criminal' has discussed the situation with the bank and has made arrangements with it. How is a bad situation (for which the majority of people have not asked) likely to change between two-hourly calls, or from Saturday to Sunday?
Anna , Somerset

If you owe them money and have given them your phone number, surely they are entitled to use it to contact you?
Steve
It sounds as though many people are dissatisfied with their banks and their information-handling processes in general, and not the use of automated messages per se. If the banks' records are incorrect, then it doesn't matter whether they use automated voices, real voices, the post or carrier pigeon! Would you rather they came and knocked at the door? Would your elderly mother feel safer then? Strangely, some would feel more secure receiving an email - isn't that where phishing started ? If you owe them money and have given them your phone number, surely they are entitled to use it to contact you? If it's a cold (unsolicited marketing) call, it's illegal and you can register with the Telephone Preference Service. If it qualifies as a nuisance call, you can use Choose to Refuse or Anonymous Call Reject (both BT services) or you could just pay your bills on time
Steve

These automated systems are set up to perform tasks, much like setting up reminders or booking a meeting requests in Outlook on your PC; if these systems are set up incorrectly then the tasks will not be performed correctly. If companies use the right technology and ensure these 'contact campaigns' are set up correctly, then we would ALL see the benefit!
Martin

I would think that this is going to be exploited very soon by the scammers
Jason
If it is an automated service how do you make sure the caller is who they say they are? I would think that this is going to be exploited very soon by the scammers. All so that the banks can save a few pence by not calling in person.
Jason

Auto-calling could be counter-productive in another way. The degree of animosity aroused to ALL automated systems including automated filtering can only escalate.
Bob

I will be making a formal complaint to my bank and closing my account
Anne Brand
I now realise that I'm not the only one feeling harassed. It can't be acceptable to continue to call someone many times throughout the day - starting after 8am and even continuing up to 9pm. Who wants to be called at 9pm after a day at work! I've had it again this weekend and enough is enough. I don't even have a problem with my account. When you dial 1471 and ring the number which has called you, my bank's automated service says there's not a problem and you don't need to ring back - then they continue to call! I will be making a formal complaint to my bank and closing my account (I have been a customer for over 25 years) I am ex-directory and also subscribe to the telephone preference service.
Anne Brand

If you are harassed by your bank with these IVMs for no reason, demand money from them as compensation and threaten them with taking your business elsewhere if they fail to pay. If, however, you owe the bank money and have handled your own account outside the agreed terms of their business, then you can hardly get upset because they're not licking your boots when they come asking for their money back.
Richard, Leeds

If you spend the money and don't pay it back then that's stealing.
Susan, London
If you spend the money and don't pay it back then that's stealing. The banks are totally reasonable to call you constantly - a shame that they don't have more power to get people to honour their debts. Think how much better everyone would become at honouring their debts if, say, one missed payment equalled a week in jail, two, two weeks and so on.
Susan, London

If you are in debt it's fine that banks call you. Otherwise people will have a habit of getting out of this as well.
Rahul, London

British banks treat their customers with utter contempt
Peter Norris, Birmingham
It is an offence under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 to engage in a "...course of conduct..." that the perpetrator "...knows or ought to know amounts to harassment...". It further states that it is harassment "...if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment..." Phoning someone up to six times a day is in my mind clearly a criminal offence. The Act also explicitly allows for a civil remedy. In other words "sue them". British banks treat their customers with utter contempt. The proper role of government is to protect us.
Peter Norris, Birmingham

Fed up with marketing companies, I purchased a geographic phone number online (with Oxford STD code). All calls from all companies now go straight to an email account where I pick up the voice mails. My sanity is worth more than the cost.
Richard, Oxford

The calls stopped that day, though they then closed my niece's account
David, Middlesbrough
My niece had no phone of her own so she gave my phone number as a contact (it was made very clear that it was not her own phone number). I then started to receive automated calls that gave me confidential information about my niece's banking. I rang the bank and just got a rude person saying I was talking rubbish and to put my niece on the phone. I ended up going into a branch of the bank and threatening the manager that I would issue proceedings for harassment and breach of the Data Protection Act. The calls stopped that day, though they then closed my niece's account.
David, Middlesbrough

People could be arrested for less, if doing it in person
D Dortman, Durham
Having been on the end of these from a company I had no knowledge of I have to say the regulation needs tightening up. Sometimes eight plus auto-dialler calls in one day went on for two weeks solid, even after I'd waited many times for up to 15 minutes on hold to talk to someone and told them that this was the wrong number. People could be arrested for less, if doing it in person.
D Dortman, Durham

I'm fortunately not in the position of having to deal with debt calls, but I've been on the receiving end of automated calls before and my reaction is to put the phone down. If there's a Caller Line Identification (CLI) present then it gets noted and subsequently receives the answer phone treatment. If there is no CLI present then I'll usually let the answer phone take it anyway.
Dave,

What on earth are the banks thinking of? Didn't it occur to them that people would automatically think this was a scam? I never, ever respond to these calls and when my bank tried, I put the phone down on them every time, four times a day for three days. Eventually a human called and was surprised to hear I thought it was scammers at work. This has to go down in history as one of the stupidest ideas ever.
Orchid, North East

When my father spoke to the bank, the problem lay with them not him
S Gilmore, Bedfordshire
This recently happened to me. The bank was trying to contact my father who was on holiday. I made a note of the first call so he could contact the bank on his return. The first day I had a total of nine calls, the second day brought eight calls and the third day another eight calls. On the 4th day I unplugged the phone as I was on nights and sleep deprivation had set in. The worse thing was, when my father spoke to the bank, the problem lay with them not him. As a result he told the bank his views on the subject and then changed his account. Banks need to remember we are the customers and we can take our business elsewhere.
S Gilmore, Bedfordshire

I've been called at 8.50am on a Sunday morning and close to 9pm on a weekday evening, sometimes once an hour in between. This is harassment plain and simple.
Chris, Manchester

I was called recently by one of these firms that offer to help you and claim to be able to use the law to write off debts. We have no debts other than a small authorised overdraft so I have no idea why we were called or how they got our number. I put the phone down without hearing all the message.
J Sharratt, Leicester

I guess the only thing to do is change one's telephone number...
Ash, Tunbridge Wells

I am currently in the process of moving my account to a different bank
Elizabeth Wright, Leeds
Automatic calls started at home while I was at work so they pestered my husband who works from home and totally failed to contact me as I work full time outside of the home. I rang the bank concerned that I was being targeted by phishers to discover that I had missed the first payment on a new card which I had in good faith paid in full within days of receiving the postal bill. I expressed my disapproval at being contacted in such a way as I do not think it appropriate that I am rung by an automated system which then asks me to key in personal details - this sends entirely the wrong message to customers who should never be encouraged to key in personal details by an automated system which has contacted them - they should only ever give details to a contact that they have rung themselves through official channels that they know to be correct. I have been a customer with the bank over 25 years with a perfect credit history and a commitment to ethical banking i.e. I do not want the third word bullied and have lost all confidence with a bank who use bullying tactics against their personal customers. The automated system sets a potentially dangerous precedent to customers who may be lulled in to responding to fraudulent automated systems and provides no method of rectifying what may be genuine reasons why a payment has not been made and is just a means of harassment and bullying which is an indiscriminate attack on everyone who lives at an address. I am currently in the process of moving my account to a different bank.
Elizabeth Wright, Leeds

We have been getting more and more of these recently. If you pick up the phone and say nothing all is quiet... as soon as you say "hello" the automated script starts trying to sell the homeowner a loan or other such useless stuff. If you are lucky enough to get a human talking to you they are always from India and cannot understand when you say "no I am not the homeowner".
Mark Bewick, Lossiemouth

Banks are using automated systems to try to save employees from becoming personally liable for this criminal offence
Colin Tolfree, Emsworth Hants
Under the Telecommunications Act 1984, it is a criminal offence to leave grossly offensive messages over telephone or make indecent or obscene or menacing telephone calls or calls which cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety. The criminal courts may in certain circumstances treat such harassment as grievous bodily harm if psychological damage results. I believe that the banks are using automated systems to try to save employees from becoming personally liable for this criminal offence. Anyone who is the subject of harassment via the telephone should report it their local constabulary's liaison officer.
Colin Tolfree, Emsworth Hants

I find it very wearing when the phone rings constantly, and rather than a welcome call from family or friends it's one of these annoying automated calls. One company called me every half an hour or so all day long for several days. Since I work from home it had a damaging effect on my productivity and my business. We are ex-directory, as well as being registered with the telephone preference service, but that seems to count for nothing. My elderly mother-in-law has been plagued with these calls and finds them extremely worrying and frightening - to the extent that she only plugs in her phone when she wishes to dial out, making it impossible for us to "keep an eye on her" by phone. Something needs to be done.
Jacqueline McWilliams, Farnham

This parent was doing his offspring no favours
Alison Wright, Salisbury
Did the man being interviewed about these calls ever once consider getting in touch with his irresponsible son and taking him to task? Surely, if someone gives their parent's address when taking out a debt, that person ought to have the decency to make sure that the parent isn't harassed by their fecklessness. Presumably, all the bank wanted was for the son to get in touch and make arrangements to repay the debt. This parent was doing his offspring no favours by accepting the harassment on the son's behalf. He should have told the bank where they could get in touch with the real culprit who should face up to his situation.
Alison Wright, Salisbury

All this is easy to resolve. Harassment is a criminal offence - owing a bank (etc) money is not. When/if you get to speak to a real person just remind them of the fact and the phone calls stop immediately.
Dave, Bury, Lancs

After a threat of legal action they apologised
Jen, Cambridge
I phoned and wrote to my credit card company and asked if the high interest charged on my card could be lowered. I was told by the bank that I should miss two payments (at least) to the card company and the bank could then greatly reduce my interest on the card. I found it hard to believe that they were instructing me to miss payments to have my card interest lowered, but after the message was repeated to a friend I decided to accept. I was then phoned many times about the debt on my credit card. The card company used automatic phone messages on my home phone and my employer's phone. They eventually phoned my employer and said they must speak with me about my default on my credit card. They also phoned my home and again said they must speak with me about my overdue payment. My employer said that I was not permitted to have phone calls at work. But they continued to make similar calls to my workplace. I could not get them to stop. After a threat of legal action they apologised, lowered my interest to very low percentage and made a goodwill gesture payment to me. It does rather confirm they do use pressure against card debtors.
Jen, Cambridge

Nine million people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing, and the incidence rises with age to the extent that 55% of people over 60 have a hearing loss (figures from RNID). Automated phone calls of this type can be frustrating, distressing and in many cases useless for this group of people. Phone calls from an operator can also be problematic, but at least there is some chance that the caller will be able to repeat or rephrase a message that isn't heard. Organisations including banks, lenders and others including DWP (which recently launched a nationwide phone helpline) need to be aware that a significant proportion of their customers won't be helped by this technology, but will be put at a serious disadvantage.
Jackie Erskine, Edinburgh

I have asked them to stop and given them new details
Lynne Ingram, Highbridge
A couple of months ago I started getting several computerised messages a day from a bank. They included my name, gave a phone number and said I should press a button to continue. This sounded just like a scam I had heard about where you get linked to a high cost phone line, so I ignored them. The messages continued so I checked the number given against those on the bank's website, and could not find it. I then went to a branch to report this and to see if the calls were genuine. The staff checked my records to see if I had been phoned, and said that no-one had tried to contact me, and that it must therefore be a scam. The details were taken and reported. I still continued to get calls and took the number to my local branch. Again they had no record of anyone trying to get in touch, but phoned the number themselves. They then discovered that it was another section of the bank who ring customers to give messages about overdraft limits or similar. I never found out what the calls were about and they did stop, but when I spoke to someone from the section she said that customers found the calls useful. I have just come back from holiday to find 9 messages (3 a day) from a mortgage provider for my son, who has not lived at home for years. I told him about the messages. More messages were left in the next couple of days until I had time to contact the company to ask them to stop ringing me, and with up to date details for my son. They agreed to stop ringing. Messages continued to be left however and I rang again - this time I was told that they could not stop ringing me, as these were the details that they had been given, and that my son had to inform them of the correct details. I was not impressed, and consider this as harassment as I have asked them to stop and given them new details.
Lynne Ingram, Highbridge

I used to have a small business bank account which I closed over seven years ago. I still get e-mails from the bank asking me to confirm my banking details online. Clearly a scam. Using the bank's website "contact" page, I find it impossible easily to make contact with them to report this obvious scam. And when I do find a human voice to speak to, they suggest I visit my branch - which I don't have because I don't have an account anymore. I wish I could set up an automated message to deal with these post-sub-prime automatons who are not equipped to deal with fraudsters who set up otherwise convincing debt messages - but yet still pay themselves huge bonuses despite their inept performance.
T Marston, Lincoln

I have started to receive calls from an automated service that requests me to press 9 to stop the calls. It is very annoying and no one wants to know about it. It definitely needs putting a stop to.
Steve G, Chesterfield

The bank knows I have a debt management plan
Clive, Kent
I have been targeted with these automated calls. In my case they used my mobile and my home number they all started with "This is an important call for Mr X from the Bank Y". So I was harassed at work on the mobile and members of my family who work nights were awoken by the constant calling. The calls from the same bank came from various numbers sometimes withheld or unknown. Both the mobile and the home phone were called within minutes of each other. After two nights away I had 16 answer phone messages all from the same system. The bank knows I have a debt management plan and the payments are up-to-date but the calls continued as they were asking for a payment increase or settlement.
Clive, Kent

I received calls asking for payments. They phoned both on my mobile and home phone for several times a day throughout the whole week. It is very annoying. My gas supplier also uses the automated calling system. The day after I changed my house phone number and made it ex-directory, the first call I received was from them. I did not even know my number yet but they managed to get to me. My account was fully up-to-date but they still call me. I switched supplier soon after that.
Joe, Bristol

It was very stressful in an already stressful situation
Christine, Cheltenham
I was recently a victim of deception and lost a large amount of money. When my resources became tight I approached my bank for a overdraft extension just as the credit crunch hit. Even though I had legal insurance and other monies owed to me, the bank would not help with my cash flow problem. In April this year I missed my first credit card repayment and the automated calls began. I went through the process of press this button, press that one, enter your date of birth, what is your inside leg measurement and so on, before I got to speak to a human being. I explained I was involved in a criminal and civil case, that I had money owing to me and that I was waiting for payment before I could repay them. They told me that they would make a note on my file and to make repayment as soon as possible. They spoke to me as if I owed them the money personally and not the bank. The calls persisted, up to eight times a day, the latest being 8.30 in the evening. Sometimes I would get an operator who would apologise as soon as they got through to me because they would then have read the note on my file. Other times the operator would threaten me with legal action if I didn't pay up. It was very stressful in an already stressful situation. This automated call system was nothing short of harassment which I pointed out to them in a number of the calls. When my money came in they were the first to be paid but I still received calls while my bank processed my payment to their credit card division. It was an absolute disgrace and at no point can I see the customer service in that. Shame on them.
Christine, Cheltenham

It got so bad I had to change my telephone number. The bank would call nine times a day from 8am to 9pm at night. Others just left a message and no option to call back. It's time these calls were stopped.
John, Wirral

I was in a serious predicament I think the harassment would send me insane
Richard, Manchester
I recently set up a direct debit for my card, not realising I would need to pay the next payment manually. What a mistake - I went away with work for three days and left my phone at home, and returned to an average of 10-15 missed calls a day with messages left every other time. The worst of it was the message was a computer that didn't identify who was calling, and on checking the number online it flagged up with warnings of possible phone banking scams. Needless to say the calls stopped once I paid them what was outstanding, but if I was in a serious predicament I think the harassment would send me insane, quite literally. I felt hounded and it was only a tiny payment needed. Needless to say I'll be closing that account ASAP.
Richard, Manchester

No one should ever answer an automated call. It's bad enough when you call them and get through to an computerised call handling system. If they need to contact you, make them use real people or the post.
Patrick Simms, Darwen

Eventually she took out a formal complaint about harassment
Mrs Davies, Flintshire
Two years ago my disabled daughter unwittingly ran up a small overdraft while in hospital. I had informed her bank of her circumstances, so when she came out of hospital she attempted to negotiate to have the amount, which by now had accrued bank charges totalling more than the original amount, frozen and to pay it off monthly. This offer met with a flat refusal. She was then so harassed by the bank that she had all her calls transferred to my number. At first the calls were from highly unpleasant people. "So she is ill - is that our problem?" "I don't care if she will not talk to us, I will just keep phoning you until she does!" These calls were usually in the evening and often at half hourly intervals. Then the automated calls started. 6, 7 or 8 a day from morning till evening, the latest at 9.30 pm. This went on for months. Eventually she took out a formal complaint about harassment. Within a month the bank wrote to say that the whole debt (which by now was huge) had been written off as a "gesture of goodwill." I don't know how much this fiasco, which lasted over a year, cost the bank. If they had been willing to accept monthly payments they would have had the original debt paid within three months.
Mrs Davies, Flintshire

My bank kept telephoning me with a deadened voice mechanical recording. I knew I would have to speak to an operator in India with absolutely no power on earth to change anything. When I received an abortive (nobody there) automatic call at 3am on a Sunday morning, I went into my account records online and removed my telephone number. The calls stopped immediately.
Ruth Hunt, Birmingham UK

I think the system amounts to harassment. The bank doesn't think it is a problem
Mead, Southampton
Our bank has taken to contacting us in this way - starting within the last fortnight or so. Calls come to our home number. My husband is at home much of the day and has answered the phone to this system, with the calls sometimes coming as frequently as every half hour and five or more times per day, usually from 1250 onwards. I have used the system as instructed to state that I would pay the required amount within the next 14 days. We had a couple of days respite but the calls have started again at least a week before the 14 days expire. I rang the customer service number this morning after receiving yet another automated call and spoke to someone in retail collections (you have to have given your card number, d.o.b. etc. three times by this stage). He apologised (why? Not his fault but it was obviously in the script they have to use) and said that the calls would stop once the money had been paid. Despite having communicated with them through the dratted automated system to tell them I would pay. It is obvious that the communication doesn't work and the contact does not seem to be logged anywhere. Retail collections have a 'robust' manner in dealing with people which does not help, my human contact was not interested in expanding on how feedback on the system was actually fed back and said that I could not speak to any one else and that I would have to write in to complain. I paid the money outstanding. He has said the calls will stop - I think the system amounts to harassment. The bank doesn't think it is a problem. My beef is that not only is it harassment, but that the automated system just does not work in the way it says it does. We also had a call this morning from another section (human caller) of the bank trying to sell a health care policy product - no surprise, no sale.
Mead, Southampton

We moved into our new house last August and within two weeks we were being contacted by several banks through automated calls trying to contact members of the previous owner's family. We called customer services who were only able to speak to the people they were trying to contact, so were absolutely useless in this context. Eventually we had to go into the local branch of one of the banks to tell them the people had moved and prove that we were the new owners. We also resorted to speaking to the estate agent who had sold the house but they weren't really able to help. The other banks have now stopped calling after about six or seven months of several calls a week - presumably because the previous owners eventually changed their contact details.
Susan Quirin, Horley, Surrey

There is no excuse for bad manners
Ann Cooper, Preston
If I am contacted by a computer, I simply hang up the phone. If an organisation cannot provide a live person to make the call, it is unreasonable for it to expect a live person at the other end. There is no excuse for bad manners.
Ann Cooper, Preston

I have recently taken action against a utility company for pursuing me for a debt which is not mine. The utility company are aware it is not mine but they are pursuing me in the hope that I will pay the amount in order to get them to stop harassing me. This is exactly what your interviewee did, to stop the calls. Consumers are in a no win situation, even if you do not owe the money.
John Green, Merseyside

Just to hear the phone ringing that often is very wearing
Peter Jay, Daventry
I have been subject to the bank charge roller-coaster thus I have incurred multiple debts which have been referred to debt collection agencies (masquerading as solicitors). The phone calls that are dialled by "power diallers" have been coming in 6 to 8 times a day each thus totalling 30 to 40 calls per day up to 9pm from 8am. Just to hear the phone ringing that often is very wearing. The family now have instructions not to answer unrecognised or unfamiliar numbers. My telephone service provider have a number blocking service that we have utilised to great effect and peace now reigns in our household. I have found that when I answer these numbers that nobody is there a lot of the time. On the odd occasion when I do answer I get very aggressive people who do not seem to understand the concept of having no money. Little wonder that I don't answer these calls is it?
Peter Jay, Daventry

I recently had a disputed debt with a mobile phone company. They would not consider my argument and instead harassed me over a 27 day period. I was called by automatic dialling twice per day over that time. I threatened to take them to court to obtain an injunction. The calls then stopped and they settled for the sum I was offering all along. Telephone dialling is being abused and causes distress to individuals who are not in a position to resist the harassment. I am legally trained so I have the advantage over many with whom I sympathize and who may bow to this unreasonable pressure.
James Black, Solihull

They did not acknowledge a problem in asking for password details when they contacted me
Huw Jones, Cambridge
I've been a customer with my bank for over 20 years and have usually paid off my credit cards in full each month. Last year my mother was seriously ill (and subsequently died) and I missed one payment. There followed a series of automated calls that started by asking me to confirm my identity by giving two random letters from my personal ID word. There is no reason why the bank should ask for my ID when they phone me. Indeed, my bank's code of practice says that they will not do this. The calls continued with a series of calls from a call centre, again asking me to confirm my ID. I refused each time and was lectured by one operator "you should take these matters seriously". My code word is to be used when I call the bank, and under no other circumstances. The call centre operators refused to stop calling me. Eventually I went into my branch and filed a formal complaint. Their response was unsatisfactory in that they did not acknowledge a problem in asking for password details when they contacted me.
Huw Jones, Cambridge

I've not received one of these, but exactly how is the customer supposed to differentiate a fraudulent scam from a real call from the bank? Various secure bank call-back systems also suffer from this problem.
Mark, Birmingham

I was contacted recently by a bank's automated calling system and was asked to confirm personal details, e.g. date of birth - I hung up at this stage convinced it was a scam. After two more calls I contact their credit card helpline myself. What's wrong with an e-mail or a letter?
Doreen Rawlinson, Coulsdon

My bank's computer `phoned me to say it had urgent information for me - I pressed all the relevant buttons and was told I would be transferred to an operator. I then waited 14 minutes, listening to their ghastly, repetitive message telling me how important it was they spoke to me and that an operator would speak to me shortly. After 14 minutes they disconnected. Because I was concerned I telephoned their customer services number (which being an 0845 no is very expensive to call) and spent 2.85 being passed from pillar to post only to be told they could find no reason why I had been phoned. As so often with my bank, I was less than impressed!
A Laing, Cambridge

Despite being ex-directory and a subscriber to the telephone preference service I have continued to get frequent regular cold calls. Recently they have been supplemented by recorded messages - a gap then recorded voice saying "congratulations" or " I have an special message for you". They all get the same treatment: the phone is put straight down! If the banks think this will increase responses they are wrong.
Chris Brittain, Fife


The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.



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SEE ALSO
External internet links
30 May 08 |  Moneybox
Call for rules on automated calls
31 May 08 |  Moneybox


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