Whilst many of us can determine the difference between a genuine contact and a fraudulent one, email, telephone and online phishing scams have become a lot more sophisticated in recent years and are sadly catching more of us out. Add in the fear factor created by COVID-19 and the shift in our normal ways of working and we have a fertile environment for scammers to do their work.
Recent data from Barclays shows a 66% increase in reported scams between January-June of 2020, compared to the last six months of 2019, as well as an increase of 61% across May-July as people began spending more confidently.
The findings highlight that some of the earlier scams in lockdown centred on impersonating officials from tax offices, utility providers and banks, supporting the hypothesis that disreputable individuals are taking advantage of uncertainty in the current climate. There was a also flurry of scams relating to PPE with fraudsters shamelessly exploiting the shortage of face masks, hand sanitisers and other vital resources. Scams also targeted small businesses and the self-employed seeking support through financial difficulties including opportunistic scammers impersonating IT support or repair companies targeting those working remotely and reliant on technology in order to gain access to their computers.
Avoiding Phone Scams
Scammers will use any method to achieve their goal and approach their targets via email, text, social media, as well as using phone calls and door knocking.
Ofcom has some useful tips and advice on what to be wary of and there are some simple steps to take to protect yourself from phone scams.
Register your phone number with the Telephone Preference Service or Corporate equivalent (C/TPS). This is a free service for individuals and businesses to opt-out of receiving unsolicited sales or marketing calls.
Phone companies offer a range of services (both free and paid) that aim to protect you from nuisance callers, for example 'Caller Display' which enables you to see who is calling and decide whether to pick up. A list of this type of service can be found on Ofcom's website.
Whilst most legitimate companies will screen their calls against the C/TPS register, others will not. If you are not expecting a call, aren’t sure if it is legitimate or have any concerns, the best thing is to hang up. If you have received a nuisance call, email or text, you can report your concerns to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
If a caller claims to be your existing utilities provider, your bank or even HMRC, hang up if you are not 100% certain. If you are concerned about missing an important call, find the real phone number from an existing bill or paperwork and call them back, ideally using a different phone as some scammers can leave the line open.
If a caller is pressuring you in any way either to stay on the line, provide personal or financial information, hang up. Reputable companies will not use that type of approach.
In terms of purchasing a product or service over the phone, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issues very clear guidance on how businesses must Treat Customers Fairly (TCF) . This includes making sure the consumer is well informed, before, during and after the sale and easily able to change product, switch provider, or make a complaint. Businesses that do not treat customers fairly can receive hefty fines and anyone who is unhappy can complain.