Be on your guard as fraudsters can now impersonate real phone numbers

20th October 2015


Households are reporting an alarming rise in telephone fraud with 8 scam calls now taking place every second of the day, some of which are from identical numbers to genuine organisations like banks or the Police.

Research conducted by the Government’s Money Advice Service found that telephone fraud has become so prolific that the majority of UK consumers have been targeted.

More than six in 10 (63%) have received a suspicious call over the past 12 months, with more than four in 10 (43%) targeted in the past month alone.

Some fraudsters are attempting to dupe victims into transferring money directly into criminals’ accounts or hand over bankcards, personal information and PINs over the phone or to couriers.

The scammers claim to represent a range of familiar companies and organisations – such as the Police, banks or utility companies.

Among all adults in the past year, close to one in five received a scam call where someone was impersonating a genuine organisation and, worryingly, one in 20 said that the call came from the same number as the organisation they were trying to impersonate.

This practice, known as ‘telephone spoofing’ – is where scammers use software to mimic the caller ID number of another organisation, exploiting the trust that consumers might have in that company.

Over the past 12 months, 36% of people have received an automated call, which was so believable that one in 10 went on to have a conversation with the caller before realising it wasn’t a human voice at the other end.

In these ‘vishing’ scams, criminals often use automated systems (IVR) and Voice over IP (VoIP) in an attempt to capture sensitive personal information. VoIP is now extremely accessible for fraudsters making it easier than ever to ‘spoof’ telephone numbers.

Among all Brits, 6% say that someone has tried to gain their trust by asking them to call the telephone number on the back of their debit or credit card. Known as the ‘no hang-up scam’ this is where the fraudster keeps the line open, fakes a dial tone and an accomplice answers and impersonates the bank or another trusted organisation.

Meanwhile, 25% of people say they have received a call telling them they have won a prize in a competition that they have not entered and 5% have been asked to transfer money to another account for “security purposes”.

Among those that received a scam call since 2010, 93% hung up after an average of 46 seconds, but 7% fell victim to the scam.

Of those, 6% went on to transfer money, 6% handed over personal and 4% passed on bank details.

Once the details have been handed over, the fraudsters simply empty their account or in some instances, persuade victims to go into their bank, withdraw their pensions or savings then hand them over to a courier who arrives at their door later in the day.

It is estimated that the amount of money extracted through phone fraud in the first half of 2015 has doubled when compared to the same period last year.

A total of £24 million was lost to scams in 2014.

In many cases the losses to individuals can amount to tens of thousands of pounds.

The 185 complaints featuring a ‘no hang-up’ scam that the ombudsman resolved between mid-2012 and the end of 2014 involved losses of up to £4.3 million.

Nick Hill, money expert at the Money Advice Service, says: “The research shows an alarming number of people are experiencing telephone scams, with many finding it harder to determine whether a call is genuine.

“While telephone fraud is not a new phenomenon, modern technologies make it easier for scammers to target and exploit victims. These criminals are clever and creative, using the latest technology to impersonate genuine organisations. They can hijack a bank’s telephone number as well as use scripts and systems that banks are likely to use – meaning it’s harder than ever to identify a scam call.

“Consumers can protect themselves by being on guard. If you receive a call out of the blue and are asked for personal information play it safe and hang up.”

Caroline Wayman, chief ombudsman at the Financial Ombudsman Service, adds: “For the past few years, we’ve been explaining that prevention is the best way to fight back against telephone scams.

“We can all play a part, by speaking to relatives and neighbours who might be more vulnerable to scammers and explaining what to watch out for. But have no doubt, these scams work because they’re cheap and effective – and anyone can be taken in.”

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