Over the last few years, there has been a spate in the number of spoof calls and other scams in the UK. Between January and June 2021, over 36 million adults in the UK were targeted by scams. These scams come in many forms, and spoof calls are one of the main methods.

Two of the main reasons behind the recent rise in scams are the increased availability of people's contact details online and the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw many fraudsters taking advantage of the state uncertainty that swept over the world.

Spoof calls are calls made by scammers for fraudulent purposes. They may get you to pass over sensitive information such as your bank account number, or they may even simply try and get you to send them money over the phone. Although anyone can be a target of a spoof call, older people are likely to be more vulnerable and end up handing over details that the scammers need to steal their money.

We are going to take a look at phone number spoofing, what it is, how to spot it, and what to do if you find yourself being targeted by spoofers.

Phone number spoofing generally refers to when a scam caller uses a fake caller ID or a withheld number to mask their real identity. It is usually done to make it look as though the scammer is calling from a certain location or on behalf of a particular organisation so the recipient is more likely to answer the phone and take part in the scam.

Although call spoofing is usually used for over-the-phone scams, it isn't illegal unless the caller's number is masked for fraudulent purposes. Some legitimate organisations use variations of spoofing for privacy purposes.

So let's now jump in and find out why people use spoof phone numbers.

Scammers use spoof phone numbers to make their calls appear genuine. If a caller answers a call from a number that appears to have been made by an official or a local organisation they are more likely to trust the caller and pass over sensitive information that the scammer can then use to get money or log-in details from them.

However, some organisations may mask their number and use a form of caller ID spoofing for legitimate reasons. For example, a law enforcement agency may do so to contact people covertly, or a helpline may spoof their number to ensure the details of the person they are calling are kept confidential.

In many instances, it is hard to tell if you are receiving a spoof call or a genuine call. However, there are a few signs you should look out for that often indicate that the call is spoofed.

For example:

  • You may receive unwanted calls or messages from organisations you have not previously communicated with.
  • A caller may contact you from an official organisation such as HMRC or your phone network provider but not know your name.
  • You may receive a call or a message that asks you to provide sensitive information such as your financial details without first asking you for a security question.

It has become increasingly easy for spoofers to find numbers they can call and scam.

Your number may be randomly generated by a computer programme, extracted from the internet by phishing someone else's contact list, found online or in a phonebook, or one of the many other methods spoofers have for garnering numbers.

In the modern world, it is very difficult to keep your number spoof proof as there are more ways for it to be found than ever before.

However, there are still a few things you can do to ensure the chances of your number getting spoofed are kept to a minimum:

  • Don't put your number anywhere public online.
  • Don't share your number with organisations unless it is necessary. Many sign-up sheets will state that a phone number is "optional," which means you don't have to share yours if you don't want to.
  • Read the terms and conditions of contracts and membership organisations to see if and how they share your information.
  • Be sure to leave consent boxes that allow your data to be shared or sold unticked.
  • Block calls from unknown numbers. Most phones allow you to block phone calls from numbers that are withheld. Although not all spoof callers withhold their number, many do and this can help to keep some of them away.
  • Block spoof numbers. If you receive a call from a caller you suspect to be a spoof, you can block their number from making any further calls to you.

If you receive a call that you suspect is from a spoofed number, do not provide them with any information. Politely state that you want to clarify the validity of the call, and if they cannot do so, you should hang up immediately.

You should then call the organisation that the spoofer was purportedly from and ask if they had meant to call you. You can find the number for the legitimate organisation online, in a phone book, or in any letters or emails, you may have previously received from them. You should wait at least five minutes before making this follow-up call so you can be sure the line has cleared and the fraudster cannot intercept it.

If you receive a suspected spoof call, be sure to note:

  • the date of the call
  • the phone number used
  • the content of the call.

Once you have confirmed the spoof call, you should contact as many of the following authorities as necessary:

National Fraud Authority

7726 is a number that is available for most UK phone users and allows you to forward any suspicious messages or phone calls you have received.

The service is free to use and collects a database of numbers that can be investigated by the National Fraud Authority.

Action Fraud

If you have received a spoof phone call and have been scammed, you should call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or report it on their website.

If you have given away details about your bank card or account information, you should first contact your bank and then Action Fraud.

Trading Standards

The Trading Standards is responsible for ensuring that consumers are protected against rogue traders and scammers.

If you suspect something may be a scam, you can call them on 0808 223 1133.

Friends and family

In addition to contacting and reporting the spoof call to the authorities, you should also inform your close contacts, as many scams find their targets by phishing private emails and finding numbers through one address.

Although call spoofing is often used for making spam calls, it isn't technically illegal. There are plenty of organisations that use spoofing - that is, they withhold their caller ids - for legitimate purposes.

Spoofing is deemed illegal if it is done with fraudulent or malicious intent.

The number of scams has risen rapidly since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic as fraudsters found they could take advantage of the general uncertainty and the lifestyle changes brought about by the lockdowns.

Although the numbers suggest that adults are indiscriminately targeted, older people are more likely to give their sensitive information to strangers and lose money.

Some of the most common spoof calls and messages are from people purporting to be from HMRC.

The calls may offer a tax refund or demand payment by a certain date and ask for your bank details or card information. If you receive such a call, you should verify the caller's identity. If you cannot do so, then you should hang up and call HMRC yourself.

There is also an automated phone call scam in which the automated caller will tell you that lawsuit is being filed against you and will request that you press one on your handset to speak to a caseworker. If you receive such a call, hang up immediately.

HMRC never contacts customers via WhatsApp, so any WhatsApp message you receive from them should automatically be regarded as a spoof.

Phone number spoofing refers to any unwanted incoming call in which the caller has withheld their real caller ID information. While some spoofed calls can be made for legitimate purposes, they are regularly made as scam calls that aim to get money or sensitive details that could lead to money. Anyone can be the target of a spoof call, but older people are more likely to fall prey to the scams and lose money.

If you suspect a call to be a spoof, you should hang up the phone and call back the organisation the caller purported to be from. If you then confirm the call as a spoof, be sure to report it to relevant authorities (see above) as this helps to stop other people from becoming victims of a similar crime.