Fraud warning as scammers use bank phone numbers to fleece victims - THE TELEGRAPH UK
MAY 03, 2021
BY Mike Wright
Scammers have learned how to impersonate banks by using their phone numbers to call victims, Ofcom has warned.
Huw Saunders, the regulator’s head of telecoms technology, said people should not rely on caller ID to be sure they were dealing with legitimate organisations on the phone.
His comments come as the pandemic has seen a rise in “phishing” scams in which criminals pose as legitimate organisations to dupe victims into handing over their financial details. Often these scams come in the form of emails or text messages purporting to be banks or government bodies such as HMRC.
However, Ofcom said criminals were now increasingly able to “spoof” legitimate phone numbers of banks when calling customers. Scammers will then try to gain their victims’ trust by telling them to check the phone number online or on a bank statement.
Mr Saunders warned this meant people could not rely on caller ID to screen out fraudsters.
Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4’s Money Box, he warned that spoofing was now a global problem, as criminals could target British citizens from anywhere in the world.
“This problem is global in its scope,” said Mr Saunders.
“It’s an unfortunate place to be in, but the same message is being given by our counterparts in the US, Canada, France, Australia and elsewhere.”
Spoofing has become an increasing problem due the technology the UK’s phone system is currently based on. However, the country is in the process of switching to a more digitised system by 2025, called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which Mr Sauncers said would help eliminate spoofing.
He added: “It’s only when the vast majority of people are on the new technology that we can implement a new patch to address this problem [of spoofing].”
One prominent spoofing technique deployed by scammers is to call victims and tell them they have been fined by the Government. They are then told if they pay a fee, usually in the low thousands, they can avoid going to court and risk paying a potentially higher penalty.
The latest warnings come as the consumer body Which? warned that £479 million was lost last year to bank transfer scams, a rise or more than 5 percent on the year before.
Less than half the amount lost, £206.9 million, was returned to victims, meaning such scams cost the public £272 million.
Which? said people who were concerned about suspicious calls should hang up and call the body back on its official number.
Gareth Shaw, Which? Head of Money, said: “For far too long, criminals have been using ‘spoofing’ tactics to trick their victims and we’ve seen huge numbers of people lose significant sums of money to this type of scam.
“Which? has long campaigned for telecoms operators to work proactively to protect their customers, and introduce measures to block and prevent fraudulent activity, including ensuring fixed-line numbers of large organisations cannot be spoofed.
“Our advice to consumers is to remain extra vigilant. Scammers can sound convincing when they’re pretending to be your bank, but anybody that asks for personal information from you over the phone should be treated with maximum caution.”
Meanwhile, the Government is facing increasing pressure to crack down on online scams in its forthcoming Duty of Care legislation.
The bill, which The Telegraph has campaigned for since 2018, will see tech companies potentially facing huge fines if they allow users to come to harm on their services.
However, fraud and financial harms have not been included in the bill’s scope, despite calls from organisations such as Which? and Age UK.
In his interview, Mr Saunders also admitted that the UK had fallen behind other countries such as the US in battling spoofing scams.
He said: “They [the US] are ahead of the UK, but that’s not an issue that can be solved overnight.
“It’s going to take a few years. If you look at a comparable situation in France, for example, they now have a timetable for the implementation of a particular technical solution and that is over a three-year period.”