Sorry, wrong number – phone scams

Don’t be fooled by the new wave of phone fraudsters, says Paul Lewis

Shocked and worried senior couple using phone while sitting on sofa at home.

I do not often do poetry here, but this couplet could save you a fortune:

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Don’t trust what you see
On caller ID.

That was the advice given to me recently by Graeme Biggar, the director-general of the National Economic Crime Centre. He was warning that thieves are using something called “number spoofing” to make it seem as if they’re calling from somewhere credible such as your bank, the police or HMRC. Number spoofing is easy to do and – Ofcom tells me – impossible to stop.

Nowadays the theft is a two stage process. First, the cold call itself comes from what appears to be a UK mobile number (but is actually a rogue call centre in another country). Second, after you have been told that the call is from HMRC or the police, your sensible scepticism is undermined by calling you from a different number that appears identical to, for example, your bank’s fraud line, a court in London, or an HMRC helpline.  In that way the thief persuades you they are genuine, and you believe the lies they tell that your money is at risk, your National Insurance number is about to be cancelled, or you owe HMRC £1,673.  Then they move on to the theft itself: persuading you to pass on bank details so they can use them to move your money to their account.

The response to this threat has been feeble. Numbers that are never used for outgoing customer service calls (such as from banks) can be put on a “Do Not Originate” or DNO list, so that if one of them appears as the number a call is coming from, that call is blocked.  But there are thousands of official numbers that are not protected in this way, and the thieves are expert at finding them.

Of course, the impenetrable barrier against these  crooks is to hang up the moment you answer the phone and suspect a scam call. Do not engage with them. And, if you want to check if the call was genuine, find a number yourself for the organisation that claimed to be calling and
ring them a bit later. Meanwhile, repeat that rhyme to yourself…

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Paul Lewis presents Money Box on Radio 4