Feeling safe from the clutches of criminals and conmen used to be a matter of locking your front door against the outside world, but now 'scammers' are finding ever more elaborate ways to con us out of our cash in our own homes.
New research commissioned by phone and internet provider TalkTalk shows that Britons are now twice as likely to get a call on their home landline phone from a scammer as from their best friend. The problem of phone scamming has reached an all-time high in the UK, where 2.5 million households received a scam call in the past month alone.
On top of that, 63% of the households surveyed received a suspicious email in the past month, while 43% received a suspicious text message on their mobile phone. Worryingly, the research also shows that nearly half of Britons admit they would not be able to spot a phone scam.
The problem is magnified by the scammers deliberately targeting more vulnerable groups, including the elderly who tend to be more trusting. And once someone has been successfully scammed, they are far more likely to be targeted again, as the scammers sell on personal details of those they have conned to other criminals.
Often scammers claim to be calling from trusted organisations such as banks, utility companies and even Government departments. Because they already have some basic information – such as a person's name, date of birth, address or even an account number – people are persuaded to give out more information which the crooks use to access accounts or charge large amounts for non-existent services.
In a bid to combat the scammers TalkTalk has partnered with Get Safe Online – the UK's leading source of information on online safety – and The Sun newspapers to launch a nationwide 'Beat the Scammers' campaign. It aims to raise awareness of scammers and the techniques they use, and to make it easier to report and block them.
As well as ramping up security measures for its own four million customers, TalkTalk has set up an online hub, open to anyone, with valuable guidance and advice on how to beat the scammers. It can be accessed here. Anyone who has been the victim of a scam is also urged to report it to Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre, either by phone on 0300 123 2040 or online at www.actionfraud.co.uk
Below are five of the most common techniques used by phone scammers trying to make you reveal personal information or part with your cash. They might:
· Pretend to be from a trusted brand or organisation such as a bank or Government department such as HMRC
· Give you some basic details they already have about you to encourage you to reveal other private information, such as banking details, which could put you at risk
· Convince you there is a problem which in reality does not exist, such as a fault with your computer, then persuade you to pay to have it fixed
· Create a sense of panic and urgency to convince you that immediate action is needed, not allowing you time to think and become suspicious
· Make the call sound plausible, bringing another person into the conversation or even playing the background noise of a busy office to convince you they represent a big brand or organisation.
General advice on staying safe from phone scammers is to always be suspicious when you receive a call from a stranger out of the blue. Don't take it for granted that they are who they say they are and never give out personal security information such as passwords, usernames and four-digit pin numbers.
Only give out other personal information when you have fully verified the caller's credentials. If it's a company you have dealt with in the past, ask them to give details only they will know, such as your service contract details or payment details. Ask if you can call them back, on a number which you can independently verify, or ask them to call back at a time when you have someone else with you.
If you are at all suspicious, hang up. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!