Scams of all colours have increased since the advent of Covid-19, but the number of phone scams, in particular, has dramatically risen in recent years.
One of the most frustrating problems with scams is that they adapt and change over time. Whenever old methods are routed out, newer, more innovative methods spring up in their place.
Therefore, it is essential to keep on top of the latest scams and fraudulent practices so that you know exactly what to look out for.
With that in mind, join us as we run through some of the most common phone scams to be aware of in 2023.
Here are some common scams to watch out for in 2023:
- Scammers posing as government officials
- Student loan scheme scams
- Pension scheme scams
- Relations asking for money
- Dating app scams
Phone scammers have several ways of finding and targeting their victims.
One method is to match the type of victim they are looking for with a particular form of communication. For example, if a scammer was looking to scam older people with a fraudulent pension scheme, they might only call landline numbers because they know that older people are still likely to use landline phones in their homes, while younger people often solely use their mobile.
Another method scammers use to target victims is to store active numbers in a database. If you receive a scam call or text and you pick up or reply, your number will be marked as active, and they will store your details for future scams.
Victims may also have their details lifted from network hacks. For example, if one person gets scammed and subsequently hacked, the criminals may have access to their contacts and target them for scams as well.
In other scams, such as dating app scams, the scammer may attempt to build up trust with the victim over a prolonged period before attempting to coerce them out of money or get them to share sensitive personal information.
Phone scams and fraudulent activity in general have surged since the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdowns and state of uncertainty presented a golden opportunity for criminals to exploit people's confusion and paranoia.
In the summer of 2021, Ofcom - the UK's communications regulator - estimated that approximately 45 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts in just three months. Younger people were more likely to be the victims of text scams, while older people received more suspicious calls.
Around 82 % of adults said they received a call, message, or voicemail that they thought was related to a scam.
These figures do not account for all the people who have received fraudulent communications and were unaware of it, which suggests the true levels of phone scams could be even higher.
Spoofing scams are when a scam caller uses a fake caller ID to mask their real number. This is done to make it seem like the fraudster is calling on behalf of a legitimate organisation or from a particular location, so the victim is more likely to answer the call.
There are many different types of spoofing scams, so let's take a look at some common examples.
Scammers posing as government officials
There has been a recent rise in the number of scams in which the scammers pose as officials from HMRC or the local council. Much of this relates to the Covid-19 pandemic and the various rebates and payouts made available to certain people at the time.
For example, a victim may receive a message or call from a scammer purporting to be from HMRC and asking them for their bank details to make a furlough payment. Or they may demand that the victim makes a payment to them as they were overpaid during the pandemic. These scams have continued beyond the lockdowns and continue to target people today.
Similarly, victims may receive correspondence from someone claiming to be from their local authority or Ofgem (the UK's energy regulator) informing them that there was an issue with processing their energy bill rebate and that their bank details are needed.
Student loan scheme scams
Student loan scheme scams target young people and usually happen at the onset of academic terms. Victims will typically receive a call or a text from someone who claims to be from the Student Loans Company informing them that they have been unable to process their loan payment and that they need to send their bank details for the payment to be made.
Non-students can also be the victims of student loan scheme scams and receive communications from scammers posing as the Student Loans Company telling them that they are eligible for student debt relief and they need to share their details for the relief payment to be made.
Pension scheme scams
Older people are often the targets of scams as they are less likely to be aware of the kind of fraudulent activity that takes advantage of modern technology, and they often go along with the scammer's demands.
Pension scheme scams are scams in which the perpetrator claims to be from a pension provider and will offer the victim a pension review or provide financial advice on how to boost their savings. The scammer will usually either ask for the details of their pension account or suggest that they transfer some of their savings into a fraudulent account for financial incentives.
Pension scheme scams can also target those who have a pension but do not access it yet. Again, the caller will pose as an agent from the pension provider and encourage the victim to transfer their money from one pension pot into another account. Unbeknownst to the victim, the account they transfer the money into is fraudulent and inaccessible to them.
Phishing is often associated with email scams, but it can just as easily happen via text. In a text phishing scam, the victim may be encouraged to download an app that will then target bank accounts associated with the user's details. Or a phishing text may simply contain a link to a malicious website that will infect your phone with a virus and seek to hack your information.
Social engineering scams broadly refer to any fraudulent activity that exploits the victim's trust to either get them to send criminals money directly or send personal information that can be used to commit other crimes.
Examples of social engineering scams include:
- Posing as a relation and asking for money
- Dating app scams
Relations asking for money
This is a particularly pernicious scam that often targets people from older generations who may have children or grandchildren. The victim will normally receive a text message from an unknown or private number saying something along the lines of:
'Hey, it's me. My phone has been stolen, so I'm texting from this number...'
They will then proceed to ask their relative to send them money to get them out of whatever situation they claim to be in.
If you receive a similar message, ask them to clarify who is messaging or call the number to find out who is behind the phone.
Every parent and carer wants to help their children if they are in trouble, but before sending money to someone claiming to be your child or relation, do everything you can to ensure it is definitely them.
Dating app scams
Dating scams are nothing new, but since the rise in the use of dating apps, there has been a proliferation in the number of people using apps such as Tinder or Hinge for fraudulent purposes. Scammers use the medium to take advantage of the 'honey trap' formula and entice prospective love interests to share personal or financial details with them or send them money and gifts.
The scammer often uses another person's photographs and identity to build a fake profile they can hide behind. They might spend weeks or months building the victim's trust and desire and then begin to make demands. They may even ask the victim to send compromising photographs or videos that they will then use to blackmail them.
Dating app scams are complicated because many people enjoy the instant connections such apps allow you to make with strangers. But before you send anyone a gift or photographs that could put you in a dangerous position, make sure you know who the person really is. This may mean having a video call or meeting in person, anything that clarifies their identity.
The frustrating thing about any scam is that they can be very hard to detect, which is why they can be so successful. But here are a few things to look out for if you receive a suspicious call or text:
- Strange or unknown numbers. Many people refuse to pick up calls from withheld or unknown numbers, but if you do answer such a call, be alert to the fact that it could be a scam call. Keep your guard up and make sure you don't share any information with them until you have determined who they are and where they are calling from.
- High-pressure tactics. You should be wary of any text or call that loads pressure on you to respond urgently. If the communication is coming from a government authority or a well-known company, ask them to put the demands in writing or check to see if they have already attempted to contact you through other means.
- Requests for personal information. Any requests for personal or financial information over the phone or via text should be a major red flag. Don't share anything until you know exactly who they are.
- Threats. If you get a message or call threatening to take you to court if you don't make a payment or something similar, you can be sure that if it is legitimate, you will also receive a letter, so wait for additional correspondence before taking it seriously.
If you encounter a phone scam, stick to the following tips to give yourself the best chance of ensuring you and your money are kept safe:
- Hang up. The easiest and most efficient thing you can do if you are suspicious of a caller is to hang up. You can then call the organisation they claimed to be from to determine if their call was legitimate or not.
- Ask for the caller's identity. You are well within your rights to ask for the name of the caller who has called you and request to speak to their manager. A quick internet search should be able to clarify if they really are who they say they are.
- Don't share your details. You should never share your bank or personal details over the phone if you are even slightly suspicious of the caller and their intentions. Again, politely hang up and call the organisation they claim to be from.
- Contact your bank immediately if you have shared your details. If you share your bank details and realise you may have been scammed, contact your bank or card issuer as quickly as you can and inform them. They may be able to lock your account or halt any pending payments if you get there fast enough.
- Open a different bank account for phone and online transactions. You can protect the lion's share of your finances by having a separate bank account for online and phone transactions. That way, only some of your money is at risk if your details are hacked. You can also make a bank transfer from that account into another one if you are worried that you have shared your details with a scammer.
- Report it. If you are the victim of a phone scam, you must report it to the relevant authorities. This will not only give you the best chance of recovering your funds, but it will also help catch the perpetrators and prevent others from being targeted.
The number of scams made via texts and phone calls has risen sharply in recent years. Although they can be hard to detect, there are some common scams and tell-tale signs to watch out for that should alert your suspicion.
Follow our guide to keep on top of the latest scams and know what to do if you find yourself a victim of one of them.