Hang Up on These Popular Phone Scams

About one-quarter of all the phone calls we get are from people trying to scam us out of our money. There are signs, and steps you can take.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby Published on 11 January 2021. Last updated on 20 January 2021.
Hang Up on These Popular Phone Scams

Phone scams are a growing problem. The regulator Ofcom reports that some 25% of calls are now scams, up from just 2% to 4% in 2017. So, what are the common scams and how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim?

What are common phone scams?

There are a number of common phone scams that you need to watch out for:

  • Banking scams: Conmen pretend to be from your bank and say you have been a victim of fraud. They then ask you for personal and financial information so they can access your accounts or steal your identity.
  • Transfer scams: Fraudsters pretend to be from your bank again and tell you that your account has been compromised. They then ask you to move your money into a ‘safe account’ and then steal it.
  • Software scams: Criminals claim to be calling from a familiar software company such as Microsoft. They tell you there is a problem with your computer, and they need remote access to repair it. If they get control of your computer, they may be able to access your bank accounts or steal your identity. Or they may charge you a huge fee to fix a problem you don’t have.
  • Investment scams: Scammers call offering you the chance to buy some form of asset — from shares to forests — at a great price and with promises of huge returns. A telltale sign it is a scam is pressure to act quickly.
  • Pensions scams: These often start with a phone call offering you a free pension review. It is illegal for companies to cold-call you about pensions. (Learn more about pension scams.)
  • Tax scams: You receive a call pretending to be from HMRC saying you need to pay a tax bill. Scammers steal your personal or financial details as a result, or simply take the money they say you owe the taxman.

How to protect yourself from phone scams

The key to protecting yourself from phone scams is to reduce the number of cold calls you get. If you aren’t being inundated with calls, you stand more chance of spotting the scams and avoiding them. There are several ways you can do this.

First, sign up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). This should prevent you from getting unsolicited sales and marketing calls. You can register via the TPS website or you can register a mobile phone number for free by texting TPS and your email address to 85095. TPS isn’t foolproof, and obviously conmen will ignore the fact they aren’t meant to call you, but it will at least reduce the number of cold calls you receive.

You can also check with your telephone provider to see if they offer any call-blocking or screening services. For example, BT customers get Call Protect which automatically diverts known nuisance numbers to a junk voicemail. You can add numbers to your personal blacklist too.

For a belt-and-braces approach you can get a telephone handset that blocks nuisance calls. These phones can block calls from specific numbers, withheld numbers and even all numbers with the same starting few digits.

What to do if a scammer calls

Never give our personal details or financial information. Your bank will never call you and ask for private details about your accounts. Don’t give out PIN numbers or account details. If in doubt, hang up and wait 10 minutes before calling your bank at the telephone number on the back of your credit or debit card. The wait is just in case the scammer stays on the line.

If you feel a caller is pressuring you, end the call. Don’t be afraid to hang up.

Check if a call was genuine by finding a telephone number for the company they said they were from – don’t use any number they gave you. Phone them and ask about the call. And don’t trust caller display. Scammers have the technology to clone telephone numbers so they can trick a caller ID into showing the genuine number for a firm even if they aren’t calling from there.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

Scam phone calls are getting increasingly sophisticated and thousands of people are tricked every year, so don’t be embarrassed if you fall victim to a dodgy cold call.

If you gave away bank details or remote access to your computer, contact your bank immediately to tell them what has happened. They may be able to stop any transactions. Try to use a different phone to the one the scammers called you on, just in case they are still on the line.

Report the scam to Action Fraud either via the website or by calling 0300 123 2040.

How to report a cold call

There are laws to protect you from unsolicited phone calls, so you don’t just have to put up with them. If you are signed up with TPS you can complain to them if you receive an unsolicited phone call.

Tell the company that calls you that you don’t want to hear from them again and that your number is registered with the TPS and hang up.

You can report spam texts for free to Ofcom by forwarding the message to 7726.

Source: Getty Images

About the author:

Ruth is a freelance journalist with 15 years of experience writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites. Specialising in savings, investments, pensions and property. Read more

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