Don’t get ‘spoofed’ by telephone number scams

Be on your guard against telephone “spoofing” scams.

Highland Council’s Trading Standards team and Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau are warning local consumers to be on their guard against telephone “spoofing” scams.  These involve scammers using what to a consumer would appear to be a local phone number specifically to gain the consumer’s trust when in fact they are based far away and are only interested in getting hold of consumers’ cash.

In one recent case dealt with by Caithness CAB, a local resident received an unwanted marketing call from someone claiming to be from a personal injury claims businesses.  The Caller ID displayed on the recipient’s phone handset showed a local area code of 01847, which covers the Thurso/Tongue area.    The caller did not state, when asked, where they were based and put down the phone. 

Trading Standards suspect that this was an example of “spoofing” and are warning local consumers and businesses to be on their guard against such calls.

Trading Standards Manager Gordon Robb explained:

“Although a business being based outwith the local area is not of course an issue in itself, intentionally misleading someone about the fact is, and some recipients have reported receiving unwanted marketing calls where they have been misled in this way.  It is, I am led to believe, technically very easy to make the caller ID display to indicate a number that is not theirs and it appears that scammers frequently use this method so they can hide their identity or dupe consumers, when in fact the caller could be telephoning from anywhere in the world”.

Caithness CAB Manager Jill Smith said:

“Luckily this consumer did not lose out.  They were cautious enough to ask questions of the caller that led to the end of the call.  When they contacted us, we were able to put their mind at rest and give them some tips on dealing with unwanted calls in future.  But we are concerned that other residents will be caught out by phone scams using spoofing tactics”.

The perpetrators may also use this practice to try to mimic the number of a real company or person who is locally based.    For example, ‘spoofing’ has been used by identity thieves who want to steal sensitive information, such as bank account or login details.  The caller may pretend to be calling from a person’s bank or credit card company and the local area code number may help to dupe the recipient into thinking that it is a genuine call. 

Trading Standards and the Highland CABs work closely together on these matters as part of the “Highland Consumer Partnership”.  Although effective investigations and redress for consumers are regularly achieved by the Partnership, sometimes prevention is better than cure as Gordon Robb explained:

“If the scammers are based abroad then there are limits to what we can achieve in either bringing those involved to book or in obtaining any redress for consumers.  Much better to warn residents beforehand and prevent them being scammed in the first place”

Advice from the Highland Consumer Partnership is to be vigilant when answering the telephone to a number they don’t recognise.  Both householders and businesses should:

  • Never give out personal information in response to an incoming call or rely up on the Caller ID as a sole means of identification.  If in doubt… put down the receiver.
  • Never give out financial information such as a debit or credit card number, bank account number, etc to someone claiming to be calling on behalf of a bank, building society, credit card company or government bodies such as HMRC.
  • Always contact their own account holder directly, by using the telephone number shown on their last account statement and advise them of this contact. 

Recipients of such scam/nuisance calls are also advised to leave at least 5 minutes before making a call to their own account holder however, to ensure that the line has cleared and they are not are still not speaking to the fraudster or an accomplice.

Consumers can get more advice about this or any other consumer matter by contacting their local CAB or phoning the national helpline on 03454 040506.

Highland residents can also visit or write to: The Highland Council Trading Standards Service, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF.

27 Jan 2016