Phone scams are at an all-time high in the UK, with criminals using increasingly elaborate techniques to persuade us to part with cash or reveal private information such as banking details.
The scams can be extremely plausible and easy to fall for, especially as the scammers target more vulnerable groups such as the elderly, who tend to be generally more trusting or less familiar with new technology.
Advice on spotting scams and not falling prey to them includes to always be suspicious if you are called out of the blue by a stranger. If they claim to be from a company you have dealt with in the past, ask for information only they would know, such as service contract details, dates and payment details.
Ask for a number you can call them back on and which you can first verify as being genuine. Or ask them to call you back when you have someone with you who can help you spot a scam. Don't just assume they are who they claim to be.
Never give out personal security information such as passwords of four-digit pin numbers over the phone – not even your bank will ask for these. Only give out other information when you are completely sure who you are speaking to. If you are at all suspicious, hang up.
Although scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to con people over the phone, some scams have been around for a while, simply because they work. Here are the top 10 most common phone scams to look out for:
1.Windows scam – someone calls claiming to be from computer software firm Windows and says you have a dangerous virus on your computer. They get you to turn on your computer then talk you through a number of steps which they say will fix the problem, for a fee. As well as paying to 'fix' a problem that doesn't exist, you are granting the scammers remote access to your computer and personal details.
2.Microsoft technical department scam – similar to the above, the caller claims to be from Microsoft and that a problem has been detected with your computer. They get you to log into a website which gives them total control over your computer and access to all the personal information it contains.
3.Sky Protect scam – customers of satellite TV provider Sky have received calls claiming to be from Sky Protect, the broadcaster's insurance scheme. The caller seems legitimate because they already have some of your details, but will then ask for your bank details. Be suspicious, hang up and contact Sky yourself.
4.BT phone disconnecting scam – someone calls from BT claiming you have an overdue bill and that your phone will be cut off unless you pay it now by giving them your bank details. If you refuse the scammer may tell you to put your phone down then try to call someone. You won't be able to because the scammer has kept the line open. The scammer then calls back and says they will get your phone working again once you pay up. The real BT will never operate in this way.
5.Missed call scam – if you have a missed call on your mobile from a number you don't recognise, should you call it back? No, your call could be redirected to a premium rate service which will cost a fortune. Premium rate numbers usually start with 076, 090 and 190.
6.Telephone lottery scams – these come in various guises and trick you into believing you've been entered into a prize draw. Later you'll be told you've won a prize, but in order to claim it they need your personal information to cover a small admin fee, postage etc. Don't fall for it – there is no draw and no prize, but the scammer will have your details.
7.Ringtone scams – the scammer (by either call or text to your mobile) offers a free ringtone, but by accepting it you are actually subscribing to a service which continues to send ringtones charged at a high premium rate.
8.Wrong Message scams – these look like a normal text message you might receive from a friend, such as 'Meet me tonight at 8'. You're tempted to reply, but the text you send will cost you a packet. If you don't know who it's from, delete it.
9.Mobile phone insurance scam – after buying a new mobile phone people have received calls claiming to be from the shop where they bought the phone and offering a great deal on phone insurance which is only available if you act now... by giving them your bank details. It's a hoax, don't do it.
10.HM Revenue and Customs scam – someone calls claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs. They say you are due a tax rebate and ask for your bank details so they can pay it into your account. In reality, nothing goes in, but a lot could come out. The real HMRC will never act in this way.
Remember, be suspicious of any unsolicited 'cold call'. Never take anything you are told at face value. Don't assume the person calling you is genuine, unless they can prove it beyond doubt. Be very wary of giving out personal details. And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you have been the victim of a phone scam or an attempted scam, you should report it to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by phone on 0300 123 2040.