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A criminologist explains the scams you need to know about

Our research has shown a staggering eight scam calls happen every second. With the majority of UK consumers having received a call, it’s important you know what to look out for.

Fraudsters rely on the trust people generally place in the security of a specific telephone number – say that of their financial institution. So, if a call appears to be from a known and trusted number, we are more likely to believe the call is genuine.

So, how can you make sure you know if you’re talking to a fraudster?

Here criminologist Dr Stefan Fafinski tells you what you should be looking out for.

What is ‘vishing’?

Just as we like to use new technology to make our lives easier, criminals use it to find new ways of making us part from our money.

An example of this is ‘vishing’ – a term that combines the words ‘voice’ and ‘phishing’. This is where fraudsters try to get hold of personal or financial information during a phone call.

In this scam, fraudsters use different ways of giving their victim into a false sense of security, convincing them that they really are talking to their bank or credit card company and that they must co-operate in order to fix a potential problem with their account.

Of course, co-operation with the fraudsters actually poses huge risks.

How do these scams work?

Methods vary but typically, the unsuspecting victim receives a call from an individual claiming to be from their bank or another financial institution, who explain that there has been some unusual activity on the account – perhaps a large withdrawal of funds or a series of transactions on a credit or debit card.

These topics are chosen to immediately make the victim anxious and unsettled.

The caller will then say that they can investigate and fix the problem. They may ask the victim to call the bank’s number, which can be found on the back of their card, or, that they will shortly receive a call from that number.

Either way, the victim will think that they are genuinely speaking with their bank’s customer service or fraud prevention department.

In actual fact, the fraudsters will either ‘spoof’ the number when they call back (i.e. making it look as though it is from the real bank, whereas it is actually an accomplice calling) or when the victim tries to call back, the fraudsters will play a fake dial tone on the line so the victim thinks they are placing a fresh call.

In fact, they will still be speaking to a fraudster.

By this stage, the victim may well have been tricked – without having passed on any personal information at this stage – into thinking that they are genuinely talking to their bank. And if they believe this to be true, then their guard will be down.

Once the fraudster is confident the victim is convinced, they may ask them for specific information about their account or card.

They may ask them to transfer money into a ‘safe’ new account that has been set up for their own security. Fraudsters might also say they will send a courier to collect the ‘compromised’ cards – again for the victim’s own ‘safety’. Either way, the unwary victim will be handing over their money or the information needed for the criminals to get their hands on their money.

Who is most vulnerable to these scams?

Older people are potentially more vulnerable to this form of fraud as they are unfamiliar with the tactics and technology used to spoof numbers, and the ease with which criminals can access this.

This group are also much more likely to be more trusting of officials claiming to call from their bank, particularly when the call comes from a telephone number that is easily verifiable.


How could you spot a fraud call?

One of the key differences between a regular caller and a fraudulent caller is that fraudsters will often overemphasise that they are doing this for safety and security.

Alarm bells should ring if you receive a call from your ‘bank’ and the caller:

  • Doesn’t know your name
  • Doesn’t say where they are calling from
  • Asks for complete PIN or password
  • Asks you to call back to verify their authenticity
  • Asks you to initiate a money transfer to a new ‘safe’ account
  • Says that they will call to collect a ‘compromised’ card

These are indicators that the call is likely to be a scam.

If you think a call you receive is from a fraudster, call your bank from a different phone or mobile.

Tell the caller you will be calling back on a different line – they will often hang up immediately or try to persuade you not to do so. If you don’t have a second line or mobile, wait at least five minutes before calling back so that you are sure that your line is clear. If you want to be really sure, phone a friend first!

This guest post is from Dr Stefan Fafinski and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the Money Advice Service.

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