Eight 'Scam calls' now take place every second

Tuesday 20 October 2015

  • More than six in 10 (63 per cent) Britons have received a suspicious call in the past 12 months
  • On average, a scam call lasts 46 seconds before the victim realises that it is not genuine
  • Yet 7% or 3.5 million Britons have fallen victim to telephone fraud since 2010

There has been an alarming rise in telephone fraud with eight phoney calls now taking place every second1 of the day, according to research conducted by the Money Advice Service.

Telephone fraud has become so prolific that the majority of UK consumers have been targeted. More than six in 10 (63 per cent) have received a suspicious call over the past 12 months, with more than four in 10 (43%) targeted in the past month alone, according to the Money Advice Service. Fraudsters attempt to dupe victims into transferring money directly into criminals’ accounts or hand over bankcards, personal information and PINs over the phone or to couriers.

The scammers claim to represent a range of familiar companies and organisations – such as the Police, banks or utility companies. Among all adults in the past year, close to one in five (19 per cent) received a scam call where someone was impersonating a genuine organisation and one in 20 (6 per cent) said that the call came from the same number as the organisation they were trying to impersonate. Known as ‘telephone spoofing’ – this is where scammers use software to mimic the caller ID number of the organisation they are impersonating, exploiting the trust that victims traditionally place in a specific telephone number (e.g. their bank).

Over the past 12 months, more than a third (36 per cent) have received a ‘suspicious automated call’ which was so believable that one in 10 (13 per cent) went on to have a conversation with the automated service before realising it wasn’t a human voice at the other end. In these ‘vishing’ scams, criminals often use automated systems (IVR) and Voice over IP (VoIP) in an attempt to capture sensitive personal information. VoIP is now extremely accessible for fraudsters making it easier than ever to ‘spoof’ telephone numbers.

Among all Brits, more than one in 20 (6 per cent) say that someone has tried to gain their trust by asking them to call the telephone number on the back of their debit or credit card. Known as the ‘no hang-up scam’ this is where the fraudster keeps the line open, spoofs a dial tone and the fraudster’s accomplice answers and impersonates whoever the victim thinks they are trying to call. At the same time, a quarter of Brits (25 per cent) say they have received a call telling them they’ve won a prize in a competition that they hadn’t entered and one in 20 (5 per cent) answered a phoney call from someone who asked them to transfer money from their account to another account for “security purposes”.

Among those that received a scam call since 2010, while the vast majority (93 per cent or 47 million) hang up and end the call after 46 seconds on average, close to one in ten (7 per cent) or 3.5 million adults fell victim.

Of those, more than one in 20 (6 per cent) went on to transfer money, hand over personal information (6 per cent) and pass on bank details (4 per cent). Once the details have been handed over, the fraudsters simply empty their account or in some instances, persuade victims to go into their bank, withdraw their pensions or savings then hand them over to a courier who arrives at their door later in the day. It is estimated that the amount of money extracted through phone fraud in the first half of 2015 has doubled when compared to the same period last year2. A total of £24million was lost to scams in 20143.

According to the Financial Ombudsman Service4, many consumers lose substantial sums of money to vishing and no hang-up fraud. In many cases this can amount to tens of thousands of pounds. The 185 complaints featuring a ‘no hang-up’ scam that the ombudsman resolved between mid-2012 and the end of 2014 involved losses of up to £4.3 million5.

While scams can happen to any of us, fraudsters target some of the most vulnerable people in society – particularly those that are elderly and those living alone, with those over 55 most likely to fall for the scam. According to the findings, older Internet users are easier targets because they are more trusting of officials claiming to call from their bank, and are less aware of the technology available and tactics used by fraudsters6.

There is usually more than one person involved in a scam, as speaking to different individuals lulls victims into a false sense of security. Many fraudsters have or put on regional accents such as Scottish, Welsh or Geordie, as these are considered to be more trust-worthy, while others will feature an Indian accent as the public are accustomed to parts of financial services provision being run from overseas7.

The most likely accounts to be targeted are current and credit/debit cards, purely because they have a larger volume of transactions passing through them and it is more believable that these would have been compromised8.

Responding to the findings, Nick Hill, Money Expert at the Money Advice Service, says: “The research shows an alarming number of people are experiencing telephone scams, with many finding it harder to determine whether a call is genuine. While telephone fraud is not a new phenomenon, modern technologies make it easier for scammers to target and exploit victims. These criminals are clever and creative, using the latest technology to impersonate genuine organisations. They can hijack a bank’s telephone number as well as use scripts and systems that banks are likely to use – meaning it’s harder than ever to identify a scam call.

“Consumers can protect themselves by being on guard. If you receive a call out of the blue and are asked for personal information play it safe and hang up. It is better to hang up on a genuine call and do your research than to risk your personal details and lose your money to a scam. Here are my tips to avoid number spoofing scams:

  1. If in doubt hang up.
  2. If you do feel the need to call back, wait at least 10 minutes before calling back on an official number.
  3. Never give your personal details or transfer money to someone who has called you out of the blue.

Caroline Wayman, Chief Ombudsman from Financial Ombudsman Service, added: “For the past few years, we’ve been explaining that prevention is the best way to fight back against telephone scams. We can all play a part, by speaking to relatives and neighbours who might be more vulnerable to scammers and explaining what to watch out for. But have no doubt, these scams work because they’re cheap and effective – and anyone can be taken in.”

For more information and advice visit moneyadviceservice.org.uk.

If you spot a scam or think you’ve been scammed, contact Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and crime reporting centre. You can reach them by phone on 0300 123 2040, or use Action Fraud’s online reporting tool.



Research conducted by Opinium for the Money Advice Service in October 2015 amongst 2,014 nationally representative UK adults aged 18+.

In addition to this, the Money Advice Service partnered with technology lawyer and criminologist Dr Stefan Fafinski, of the University of Surrey, to look into the modern tactics and technology used by fraudsters and identify any trends on who is being targeted, when they are being approached and how, and what they are being asked for.

Money Advice service is working in partnership with the Financial Conduct Authority and Financial Ombudsman Service to highlight where help and advice is at hand, and ultimately helping more people to avoid becoming a victim.

For media enquiries contact:

Sinead Meckin, Dan Thompson or Georgia McDonald at Third City on 0203 657 9773 or moneyadviceservice@thirdcity.co.uk.

How to spot a scam

Knowing about the common scams that fraudsters are trying to use to steal your money can stop you being conned.

Scams are getting more and more sophisticated and it pays to know what you need to look out for. Scammers will contact you over the phone, by email, by text, or might even show up on your doorstep.

There are some general signs that should set alarm bells ringing wherever you see them. Be on your guard if:

  • you get a call, text, email or letter of the blue
  • the caller tries to put you on edge by highlighting that you are at risk
  • the caller doesn’t know your name or state what financial institution they are calling from
  • you’re asked to give personal details or passwords – your bank will never ask for full passwords, or your PIN code
  • you’ve never heard of the competition you’re told you’ve won
  • you’re asked to make an advance payment
  • you’re pushed to make a quick decision – scammers don’t want to give you time to think
  • you’re told to keep it a secret
  • you’re told they will call to collect ‘compromised’ cards

About the Money Advice Service

The Money Advice Service is an independent organisation. It gives free, unbiased money advice online at moneyadviceservice.org.uk, over the phone on 0300 500 5000, and face-to-face right across the UK. The Service was set up by Government and is paid for by a statutory levy on the financial services industry, raised through the Financial Conduct Authority. Its statutory objectives are to enhance the understanding and knowledge of members of the public about financial matters (including the UK financial system); and to enhance the ability of members of the public to manage their own financial affairs.

1 According to ONS, there are 50,909,000 million adults over the age of 18.

Source: ons.gov.uk

43% of adults received a suspicious call over the past month with the call lasting 46 seconds, on average. This means that 21 million calls take place in the average month and 700,000 per day. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. This means that 8 calls are made every second.

2 Source: According to statistics released from Financial Fraud Action UK

3 Source: According to a report from Financial Fraud Action UK

4 Source: financial-ombudsman.org.uk

5 Source: According to the Financial Ombudsman Service

6 Source: Criminologist

7 Source: Criminologist

8 Source: Criminologist