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45m Received Scam Calls and Texts Over the Summer

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The government will today convene a task force with telecoms firms, banks, law enforcement and victims' groups to tackle the rising epidemic of scam phone calls and texts after Ofcom revealed 82% of adults received suspicious communications over the summer.

The telecoms regulator estimated that 44.6 million Britons received scams calls and text messages in just three months over the summer. Not only are the contacts a nuisance, but they’re also worryingly effective in duping consumers. Around 2% of those contacted, or around 900,000 people, reported following the scammers’ instructions, often to give them money, bank details or other sensitive personal information.

Text messages were the most common way scammers reach victims. 71% of adults told Ofcom they’d received a suspicious text, with nearly half (44%) of those people saying they received at least one per week.

Figures from EE highlight the scale of the problem: the mobile operator, part of the BT Group, said it detected 42 million scam text messages since July by using scanning technology. This led the mobile provider to block 18,000 SIM cards, many of them on the pay-as-you-go plans favoured by con artists.

But even those without mobile phones are falling prey to fraudulent contacts: 61% of people over 75 reported receiving a potential scam call on their landline.

Scam messages have mushroomed during the pandemic, as fraudsters take advantage of shifting consumer behaviour and economic worries to trick consumers. Scammers today frequently pose as courier firms, the victim’s bank or even government agencies.

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s networks and communications group director, said: “Criminals who defraud people using phone and text scams can cause huge distress and financial harm to their victims, and their tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would “not tolerate criminals lining their pockets at the expense of law-abiding citizens.” However, she said the government alone cannot tackle fraud and needs the help of businesses, including banks and telecoms firms.

Those groups, along with law enforcement and victims groups, are meeting today under the relaunched Joint Fraud Taskforce under the leadership of Security Minister Damien Hinds. 

Businesses have also signed on to three new industry charters, for the banking, telecom and accountancy sectors.

All major high street banks have signed onto the charter for their sector, committing to crack down on the movement of stolen money and give consistent advice to customers who fall victim to fraud. The pledges follow a report by Which? this summer that revealed 17% of fraud victims feel let down by the way their bank handled the incident, including their failure to provide guidance on how to protect themselves in the future.

David Postings, chief executive of trade group UK Finance, said: “Banks are fighting fraud on every front, but the sector can’t stop all fraud on its own. Only by working together with other key industries and government can we combine our powers to make the UK a safe place to do business.”

The main mobile firms—EE (BT), Sky Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Three, Virgin Media O2 and Vodafone—have also signed onto a charter for their sector, pledging to share information to identify the sources of repeated fraud. Telecoms firms will also work with the banking industry to bring in a system requiring bank authorisation at the point of sale of mobile phone plans, to prevent their sale to scammers who intend to use them to blitz Britons with spam messages.

Recipients can do their part to tackle fraud by forwarding suspicious text messages to their mobile operator on 7726 and by reporting any scam to which they fall victim to Action Fraud.

Lauren Smith
Lauren Smith

Lauren Smith has worked as a journalist and copywriter for most of the last decade, covering technology, energy, and consumer rights, in the US and UK.

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