People are receiving an increasing number of different types of scam phone call. Being aware of the most common techniques that the scammers use is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.
If an offer sounds too good to be true, or a caller insists that you make a decision immediately, then it’s probably a scam.
Scams can be very sophisticated. You may receive a series of phone calls, building up trust, before the scammer asks for money or your bank details.
Some scammers pretend to be from a lottery (including the Canadian national lottery), from a real or fictitious charity, from your bank or credit card company’s fraud department, from a job seeking agency (scammers get personal information from job seeking websites), from share dealerships, from market research organisations, and some even claim to be calling from the Office of Fair Trading. Once they have got through to you they ask for personal information such as bank account details and your PIN. This is called ‘Vishing’ (Voice phishing). If your bank calls to check an unusual spending pattern on your account they will generally ask you to confirm that specific transactions are valid. They won’t ask you for bank account information that they already possess.
Fake charity scams have been an increasing problem in the USA. A legitimate charity will nearly always:-
- Send you a pre-call letter about their fundraising that gives you the opportunity to opt out of the call.
- Volunteer their own name, the name of the voluntary organisation on whose behalf the call is being made, and the purpose of the telephone call.
- If you ask, they should tell you the name and address of the telephone fundraising agency making the telephone call, the call cost to the voluntary organisation, a contact name, and address for the voluntary organisation.
If you want to support a charity but are concerned about the validity of the phone call you’ve received, send your donation directly to the charity’s registered head office or via the charity’s official website.
There are a variety of different scams that attempt to get you to call a premium rate number.
- The scammer calls thousands of phone numbers using an autodialler that hangs up after just one ring, leaving a premium rate number as its Caller-ID. If you ring the premium rate number back, you will hear a recorded message telling you to hang on because someone wants to speak to you urgently. In reality, you’re being held in a never ending queue and are paying £1 per minute for the privilege.
- With the ‘prize scam’ your phone rings, and a recorded message announces that you’ve won a prize, and you need to ring a premium rate number to claim it. Needless to say, when you phone back you’re held in a queue paying a premium rate charge. The prizes, if they exist, are worth very little.
It is a legal requirement that anyone advertising or encouraging you to call a premium rate line declares the cost of the call. Calls can cost up to £2 per minute. Never return premium rate calls beginning ‘09’ unless you know the charge per minute. Check your phone bills regularly and query any unexpected calls with your telephone network operator. You can ask your telephone network operator to install a call block so that nobody can make a premium rate call without entering a PIN.
If you have been the victim of a premium rate scam it may be possible for PhonePayPlus, the premium rate regulator, to recover some of your losses - even from operations based abroad. You can check any suspect phone lines on their website, and report any calls that you believe to be premium rate scams.
‘Boiler room’ scams try to persuade you to buy shares in companies whose value (they say) will rise spectacularly. You receive calls over a number of months from a well spoken, well informed financial advisor who chats to you about your finances to gain your trust. They then give you the opportunity to subscribe to the share offering. In reality, the shares are either sold at an inflated price with high dealing charges, or are shares in non-existent or near bankrupt companies. The callers are frequently British ex-pats based overseas. The Financial Services Authority (FSA) says that victims lose an average of £20,000 each. Visit the FSA website for a list of past and present ‘boiler rooms’ targeting UK investors.
Mis-selling & Slamming occur when a genuine product is being sold, but the sales person uses deceptive means to make a sale. This most often happens where a large proportion of the sales person’s salary comes from commission on the sales they make.
Mis-selling is selling in a way that is deceptive. Incomplete, false, or misleading information may have been provided, or unacceptable pressure may have been applied during the sales process. It isn’t only rogue traders that engage in these tactics - the FSA recently fined Alliance and Leicester £7 million for mis-selling, so it is important to be on your guard whoever you are dealing with.
- Slamming occurs during phone calls that try to persuade you to switch your telephone or utility supplier. Sales agents may say, or imply, that they are calling on behalf of a different company (’passing off’), and they may record in their system that you have agreed to switch supplier even though you only agreed to receive literature about the offer. The first you know of the slam is when a bill arrives from the new supplier. Ofcom currently receives 1,000 complaints a month about Slamming and has powers to take action against companies - in some cases they could fine them up to 10% of their turnover.
Mis-selling and slamming is fraud. If you believe that have been a victim of mis-selling or slamming then get in touch with the appropriate authority - the Action Fraud Helpline, the Financial Services Authority (if it was a financial product), Ofcom (if it was a telecoms product), or the Office of Fair trading.
Anonymous caller rejection will block callers who withhold their numbers, and is useful against scams. trueCall discourages scams - Scammers will generally hang up once they realise that you are screening your calls.
trueCall also helps by optionally keeping a full log of all the calls you receive - date, time duration, Caller-ID. This can be viewed at an Internet Control Panel (access is free for the first year then £20 per year).The optional Call Recorder can keep an audio recording of whatever a caller says. This may not prevent you being scammed, but if you do become a victim, the evidence it collects may be useful - particularly in cases of mis-selling or slamming.