The increase in the number of scams seems relentless, particularly during this time. Our families, elderly neighbours, ourselves and even our social media accounts have been targeted, but can anything be done about it?
For most of us, these can be a minor irritation in our days. Still, for many, particularly our elderly friends and relatives, these calls can be financially ruining and frequently frightening.
There has been a significant increase in such calls during the lockdown as people are easy targets and likely to be at home. However, increasingly the calls are directed to mobile numbers, often looking like legitimate UK numbers.
The top three areas Trading Standards have identified are:
people selling insurance for white goods, offering cover for fridges, freezers and washing machines
impersonation callers claiming to be from the NHS, BT, Amazon or utility firms
domestic home repairs such as boiler services and drainage
It is now thought people receive up to 10 nuisance or scam calls a month, particularly targeting the elderly.
One of the most recent scams is a call telling you that you owe money to HMRC, and if you do not connect to discuss by pressing "1", there will be a warrant raised for your arrest.
On this particular scam, HMRC has advised that:
"HMRC is not involved with tax payments and will not contact you about tax matters. HMRC does not use any HMCTS phone numbers. We will not call or email you about a tax matter. If you receive a call or email, or any type of contact, do not provide any personal details or make a payment."
So what can we do about this?
First, the best defence is awareness and prevention, so speak to your relatives and elderly neighbours about these calls. If they receive them, no matter how legitimate they sound, advise them to follow these steps:
The quickest one is to hang up! We appreciate this may feel rude, but if they do not know the person and don't want to feel they are abrupt, they could say something like, "I am not interested in a sales call and only accept written correspondence, thank you" - then hang up!
On no account share personal or financial information, even if the caller claims to be from their bank. Remember, these callers often sound professional, but banks and financial organisations will never ask for personal details over the phone.
If they are in doubt after the call, speak to a friend or family member and call the organisation back from their official telephone number to check - not a number left by the caller.
Register for free with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) to reduce the number of cold calls received - even though it won't block all scammers, it will help.
If possible, take the number down, report it and block the number. This will help both you and also the organisations trying to uncover and stop these scams.
If they receive a missed call on a mobile phone from a number they don't recognise, do not call it back as there is a high chance if they do call it back, it will be a scam which can leave them out of pocket.
Also, make them aware of robot calls or robodiallers - set up to sound like a real person but computer-generated, and make millions of calls. These systems cost almost nothing to make the calls and often are raking up the £million's in successful scams. In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office issued fines amounting to £270,000 to two companies for making unlawful marketing calls and a month earlier handed out £480,000 worth of penalties to four other companies.
You can also report spam texts by forwarding the text for free to 7726 or complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.
Reports of fraud and any other financial crime in Scotland should be reported to the Police on 101, or in an emergency, if you feel threatened or unsafe, you should dial 999. Furthermore, people living in Scotland who might be at risk of, or become victim to, a scam can contact Advice Direct Scotland's consumer service on 0808 1646000 to report the activity and receive further advice.
Finally, if you or any person is suspicious about a call or text, talk to a family member, a colleague or phone the company direct.
It is always better to check and if you know anyone who has been subjected to one of these scams and sadly paid money, report the matter to Action Fraud.
We hope this advice helps, look out for each other and stay safe and alert.