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How to avoid being scammed over the phone
Phone scams are commonly used by criminals to con people out of money fraudulently. Phone scamming is still rife in the UK, with billions of pounds lost to fraudsters every year in the UK. Older people are particularly at risk of being scammed over the phone, but anyone could fall foul of these scams, particularly as many phone scammers are becoming more and more savvy all the time. The best way to protect yourself from being scammed is to understand how scams operate and which red flags to look out for when accepting unsolicited phone calls from unknown numbers.
While phone scams aren’t the same as cold calls – which is when marketers try to phone you to sell you something out of the blue – they do have a lot in common. Cold calling isn’t illegal or fraudulent, but both scammers and cold-callers are known for phoning unannounced and asking for money. So how can you tell that you’re on the phone to a scammer?
The first clues you’re speaking to a phone scammer
It’s important to always be alert when taking any unsolicited calls. While it’s true that they could be cold calls rather than scams, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Phone scammers may claim to be from a government agency, a charity fundraiser, or a major firm like Apple – government agencies, charities, and big brand companies are unlikely to cold call you, so this can be an immediate red flag.
Another thing to look out for is callers offering deals that seem too good to be true. If you’re on an unsolicited call and you’re being promised cash prizes, cheap holidays, interest-free loans, and other unbelievable deals, it may well be a scam.
Reputably companies and organisations also do not ask for passwords or threaten account closures; if the person you’re speaking to is asking for your password or using threats to try and obtain it, they are likely trying to scam you and get access to your personal accounts.
What are the most types of common phone scams?
The best way to protect yourself against phone scams is to know what the most common types of phone scams are so that you can recognise them immediately and act accordingly when you’re targeted.
Bank or government scams
Vishing, short for ‘voice phishing’, is the term used when scammers impersonate banks and government bodies in order to con people into thinking they are speaking to an authority figure. Scammers can even use number spoofing to mimic the number of the institution they’re impersonating, so you may not be able to identify scammers using caller ID this way.
Commonly in these kinds of scams, the scammer will try to convince the victim that they have been the victim of bank fraud or identity fraud in order to extort personal information such as bank details and passwords. Sometimes, they may even try to convince people to transfer their funds to a ‘safe’ place temporarily while their account is investigated. They may even encourage you to call back later for an update.
The key thing to remember when it comes to vishing scams is to never disclose personal bank details over the phone. Your bank should never ask you to give out your PIN or password over the phone, instead usually verifying your identity by asking for ‘the fourth digit’ from your password or similar. You can also call the bank back using the number published on their website so that you can be confident you are not speaking to a scammer.
Pension or investment scams
Another common type of phone scam is those involving pensions and investments. These scams have been particularly rife since 2015, when people over the age of 55 were given greater access to pensions. This means people over the age of 55 are a clear target for scammers looking to make a quick profit. They may be offering to invest some of your released pension into a scheme offering very high returns, and try to rush you into making the decision by telling you there are just few spots left on the scheme.
These scams can be particularly severe not just because of the money lost via the fraud but also because releasing your pension early could cost you a significant tax bill. It’s very important to speak to a trusted financial adviser before investing any of your pension or releasing it early, and whatever you do don’t give your pension details to anonymous callers.
Some scammers will impersonate HMRC tax agents or insurance representatives and bring up a range of concerns including accident compensation, PPI mis-selling, or income tax. These schemes can be particularly effective when they happen upon someone who genuinely has been in an accident recently or is aware that they may be owed a tax rebate.
However, be aware that respectable companies do not call people in this way and do not give out your personal details – including bank details and passwords – to anyone who asks for them like this. If the person you are speaking to says they are from your insurance provider or the HMRC, offer to hang up and phone back on the number published on those organisation’s own websites.
Computer repair scams
In these types of scams, someone might phone you suggesting that they are from the help-desk of a big IT firm like Microsoft, suggesting that you may have a virus on your PC and charging you to download anti-virus software to protect your computer. Do not follow any computer repair instructions given to you over the phone by an anonymous caller; usually they will direct you to download spyware, which records what you do on your computer and can collect sensitive information such as your bank details and online banking passwords.
If you’re worried about computer viruses and security, speak to a trusted IT professional such as those who work in large computer shops and electronics stores, or phone the Microsoft helpline using the number on their website. Respected IT companies will never contact you in this way to tell you that your computer has a virus.
Scammers are aware that more and more people are alert to the dangers of phone scams, but unfortunately this has just encouraged them to try something new: the anti-scam scam. These scammers will call you to discuss an anti-scamming charity, anti-scamming technology or offering you an extension of your Telephone Preference Service for a fee – none of these claims are to be believed. The TPS is free, and any reputable anti-scamming charities or companies would not cold call potential customers for money.
If an unknown number calls you and tries to discuss anti-scamming schemes with you and asks for bank details, do not give them any personal details and report their number to the police or Action Fraud: they are almost certainly trying to scam you.
Can you tell a scammer by their phone number?
Looking at a phone number is not a reliable way to tell whether a call is from a scammer or not, particularly considering many scammers today are quite sophisticated and can either hide their caller ID or mimic official phone numbers. However, there are a few number prefixes to be aware of:
– +4470 phone numbers. Scammers sometimes use UK global redirects which begin with these numbers. This means the call can come from anywhere in the world, but the location is hidden to give the appearance of a call coming from the UK.
– +44870-1 and +44843-5 numbers are also commonly used by scammers. These can be difficult to spot as they look a lot like the beginning of regular mobile numbers, so it’s wise to always be alert when taking calls from unknown mobile numbers too.
– Premium Rate Numbers (09). Scams using PRNs involve tricking people into calling the scammer back by leaving a missed call on a mobile or a misdirected text message; victims of these scams can lose an average of £1.50 per minute when calling from mobile. It’s best to only call a number back when you know who you are calling and how much it will cost you.
How can I avoid being targeted by phone scammers?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to reliably stop all scammers from calling you, so no matter which steps you take it’s important to stay alert to the risks of phone scams regardless. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce the number of both scam calls and cold calls you might receive in the future:
– Register for the Telephone Preference Service. It’s free to do this, and it basically means you’re opting out of receiving cold calls. This won’t block scammers but it will hopefully reduce the number of cold calls you receive – it is actually illegal to cold call numbers which are registered for the TPS.
– Speak to your phone provider and investigate your smartphone settings to see if there are any ways to filter or block unrecognised numbers from calling you.
What should I do if I receive a scam call?
If you do receive a call and you suspect it may be from a scammer, it’s important to stay alert during the call and be very cautious about how you proceed.
– Do not give out any personal details during the call, even if the caller claims to be from your bank. Do not give out financial details or bank details, or any personal PINs or passwords.
– Don’t let them rush you. If you’re still trying to work out whether the person you’re speaking to is genuine, take your time and don’t be rushed. Scammers will often try and push you to reveal personal details before you’ve got time to think about what you’re doing.
– Ring the organisation. If a caller tells you they’re from your bank, for example, you can always verify this by hanging up and calling your bank back (using the number you have for the bank and not a number given to you by the caller) to verify if they’ve called you.
– Hang up. It might feel rude, but if you really think you are on the phone to a scammer there is often little else you can do but hang up. If the scammer starts to make threats or push you into giving out personal details, you should always hang up straight away.
What if I fall victim to a phone scam?
If you think you’ve been contacted by a phone scammer, you should never be afraid to report it. The first thing you should do is contact the police on their non-emergency number 101 and report what happened. You can also make a report to Action Fraud online, and all calls reported here will automatically be forwarded to the NFIB (National Fraud Intelligence Bureau).
If you’re called by somebody impersonating an institution or a company, you may want to get in touch with the organisation to let them know this is happening. The organisation being impersonated could then send out a warning email to other customers letting them know of the scam.
If you do accidentally give out financial or bank details to a scammer and only realise after the call that it may have been fraudulent, the first thing you should do is contact your bank and see what can be done – this may mean cancelling your debit cards or temporarily freezing your account to ensure the scammers can’t access your money.
If you’re worried about phone scammers, you can also contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service for more advice and information about staying alert and keeping yourself safe from the risks of phone scams.
Please note that Cobra Payday Loans never calls customers offering loans. Our service is 100% online, if you have been contacted by someone pretending to be from Cobra Payday Loans or Ready Money Capital Limited please cut all contact and report them to Action Fraud.