Learn how to spot the phone fraudsters with these helpful tips
Many of us have been the victim of a phone scam or we know someone who has been and unfortunately phone scams are worryingly prevalent in the UK. However, if you make yourself aware of some of the most common scams and take a few simple steps to protect yourself, you massively reduce the chances of getting ripped off.
Some of the most common phone scams in the UK include HMRC scams, bank and financial scams, tech support scams, lottery scams, identity fraud scams and sadly even charity related scams.
Understanding how these scams usually play out - and recognising the signs if a caller is trying to play a fast one on you - can help protect you from the scammers. There are also a few additional technical steps you can take to make it harder for them to get to you.
HMRC scams involve fraudsters posing as HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officials and calling you to claim you owe taxes, then threatening legal action if immediate payment is not made. They often ask for payment via bank card or transfer. HMRC themselves should never make threatening phone calls or request payment in this manner, so if you get a call like this hang up straight away and contact HMRC directly to verify if you do have any outstanding tax issues.
Scammer might alternatively call pretending to be from your bank or a financial institution such as a pension or investment fund. Legitimate organizations should never ask for your personal, confidential information over the phone, especially if you have not initiated the call yourself. So if you do get such a call or text message, hang up or delete it, then contact your bank directly using their official contact details to verify any concerns.
With tech support scams criminals call innocent people and claim to be from well-known technology companies and falsely 'inform' the targeted victim of a supposed problem with their computer or software. They may ask for remote access to your device or request payment for fake IT fixes. Reputable tech companies would not contact you in an unsolicited manner regarding technical issues, so be cautious and avoid providing personal information or granting remote access to anyone you don't trust.
Scammers also employ techniques whereby they contact people and tell them they've won the lottery or a specific prize and request payment for processing fees or taxes before releasing the funds. Again, be highly sceptical of any such call or text message and never send money or disclose personal information to unknown individuals.
It may seem beyond belief but some fraudsters even exploit people's generosity by posing as volunteers for well-known charities, seeking donations over the phone. Always verify the legitimacy of the charity by researching their official website or contacting them directly before making any donations. Avoid making donations over the phone unless you initiated the call.
To protect further yourself from phone scams in general, you can also consider taking the following preventive measures.
Always push back and ask as many questions as you can on unexpected calls. If someone's asking for payment details over the phone for something you did not seek or initiate, tell them where to go and block the number. If you can get contact details for them, report them to the police (see the Action Fraud website) if you believe you had a fraudster on the line trying to cheat you out of money.
Using a VPN is another wise move. You can find well priced VPNs and configure them on your devices to protect your identity and data. If you're on a VPN when using a public wifi network it helps shield you from data theft, which can often lead to financial theft, so using a VPN is a good option.
Use a service such as 2ndnumber.tel to get a new phone number which you then use to give out to companies or services when signing up. You can use your new UK mobile number for two factor authentication and to give out publicly for business, then keep your private number just for friends and family, reducing the likelihood of a scammer contacting you on your personal number.
Also, 2ndNumber don't require your ID or any long term contract to sign up, which means less of your personal information being given away and more privacy and security for you.
You can also consider registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which is free of charge and classes itself as 'the UK's only official 'Do Not Call' register for landline and mobile numbers'.
By registering with the TPS, which is recommended by Citizen's Advice, you are essentially opting out of unsolicited calls. So then if you do get an unsolicited or nuisance call or text you'll already be on red alert.
Another tip from Citizen's Advice is to forward nuisance SMS messages to 7726, which is free of charge and will report the sender to your mobile network.
If you believe you have been the victim of a phone scam or attempted phone scam take action immediately and report it in as much detail as possible, as quickly as possible, to Action Fraud, which is a service run by the police as a national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime.