Calling time on telephone scams

The phone rings and an automated voice starts to inform you that either your internet connection has been sending out fake signals or your tax return has been flagged up as faulty and you are going to be prosecuted. Elsewhere a live caller raises any one of a number of subjects from trying to persuade you to sell your shares at a discount to moving your pension pot.

For some, particularly those who have had their telephone number for a considerable time, calls such as these are daily occurrences. They can hit anywhere and anytime, targeting individuals and businesses alike. Their prime aim is to extract bank or other key information which the scammers can then use to defraud their victims.

Callers use a variety of aliases and company names. Over the years they have become ‘smarter’ as people have become less trusting; quoting head office addresses and phone numbers of legitimate organisations in a bid to make the caller seem plausible. Even the telephone and internet regulator Ofcom has been drawn into their web, being forced to issue a warning in January 2019 of two scams purporting to come from them. In the first instance people are asked to hand over their banking information in order to pay and ‘outstanding bill.’ In the second, callers are asked to press a keypad number for further information; an action which results in a premium rate charge being triggered.

The government, regulators and other bodies are fighting back against these types of scam calls. For example, with effect from 9 January 2019 it is illegal to make an unsolicited call in respect of pension plans. This action followed research which revealed that pension scammers were making some 250 million calls per year; equivalent to eight calls every second.

Nevertheless despite extensive publicity there are ongoing cases of individuals and businesses falling prey to fake calls. That can lead to lives and businesses being devastated. For example, according to regulatory body the FCA, on average each individual caught by a pension scam in 2018 lost £91,000.

With that in mind, what can people and businesses do to frustrate the scammers. Firstly and most simply as soon as you recognise that it is a fake call, put the phone down. There is no point in getting drawn into discussions; you may just inadvertently reveal key information which can help fraudsters in the future. Secondly, report all scam attempts to the relevant authorities, either to the Information Commissioners Office or if you think you may have lost money to Action Fraud. Every report helps authorities to pinpoint and target action.

Most particularly for businesses, train your people to spot and prevent fraud. This training should include developing awareness of the tactics which scammers use. For example, a key psychological attack mode is to induce a sense of panic or urgency. Learning to recognise and respond appropriately can help to reduce the likelihood of key information being divulged or payments made in error.

The authorities can only do so much to prevent fraud. If we all play our part in denying scammers access to funds or key information then we can play our part in calling time on telephone scams.

Written by Alison