What is a scam?
A scam describes when someone - a scammer or hacker - attempts to deceive someone else, a member of the public, to earn something or benefit in some way. Usually, the scammer wants to get money or confidential information.
A scam can occur in many ways, but it’s almost exclusively online (though you can get fake salesmen to your door, for instance). Scammers take advantage of our connection to electronics, such as our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and TVs, and how much personal information we store online.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were over 2.2 million reports of scams in 2020, with an increase in fake phone calls and text messages related to the pandemic.
To keep your information safe online, you need to be able to identify malicious activity and know how to respond to protect yourself and your data.
Types of phone scams
Many phone scams may appear genuine at first, but there are usually a few signs which can alert you to the true threat they pose. If you recognise any of the following attempts whilst receiving a phone call, text, or email, make sure you know how to report the scam before becoming a victim.
Phishing scams are received by text message or email. Their aim is to obtain your personal or financial information through acquiring the usernames and passwords of your online accounts (such as a bank account or social media).
These texts or emails may initially look like they’ve come from a trustworthy source, but the biggest hint will be what they’re asking for. Banks, for example, will never text you asking for important information.
Other suspicious indicators may include:
- The message is sent from a public domain, like Gmail - official companies will have their own contact information
- The email address is misspelt - ‘microsift’, in place of ‘microsoft’, for example. Often, it can be easy to skip over these errors as our brains are so familiar with how it should read, it ignores the mistake, but look carefully and you may find that Barclays or Santander is spelled wrong
- The message is poorly written - incorrect grammar, poor word choice, slang, odd spacing, and incorrect punctuation are all tell-tale signs that this email was auto-generated or simply not written by an authorised person
- The message contains suspicious attachments or links - when a text or email asks you to click and follow a link, the best practice is not to do that. These links can lead you to false websites that are able to harvest your private information. Never click a link unless you’ve been expecting or and can 100% guarantee it’s legitimate
- The message contains a sense of urgency - scammers work by scaring people into immediate action. If the message is trying to frighten you by claiming your account has been compromised, or something similar, try not to let this sway you into making rash decisions. Contact your bank directly and query this, rather than trusting a text or email.
These types of scams will appear as missed calls on your device. If you call the number back, you could be redirected to a premium rate number, which can cost up to £15 per call. These scammers encourage you to call back by using a recorded voicemail telling you that you’ve won a prize and need to contact a certain number in order to claim it.
If you haven’t entered a competition recently, that’s your first indicator that it’s a scam! If you have, however, it’s worth contacting the company directly rather than calling the number back. You can even check if the number that called you matches the contact details of the company.
It’s quite common for scammers to use text messaging as their technique to fraud someone. You may receive a text from an unknown contact claiming that you need to follow a link for some reason, or that you need to reply urgently. If you attempt to call this number or message back, you may end up in a premium rate call or SMS conversation.
If you’re not expecting a message from someone, or the content doesn’t even match your life (such as a different bank account to your own claiming you’ve been hacked), then it’s best to delete the message. If you are worried, you can always contact the company or person directly from searching their number online.
If you’ve just purchased a new phone, you may receive a call from someone claiming to be from the store you bought it from, trying to sell you insurance. If you follow through on the call, you may unwittingly give away personal or financial information to a scammer, and end up with no insurance in the end. It’s best to search for your own insurance online, rather than giving out private information over the phone to someone who called you.
You may receive an email from PayPal saying that there has been a report of unauthorised access to your account and your service has been limited. You’ll usually be asked to click a link, which will prompt you to enter your personal and financial details.
If you don’t have a PayPal account, then that’s your first clue that it’s a scam. If you do, however, just remember that no money service, banks or otherwise, will ever ask for your details over a text or email link. As always, if you’re concerned, contact the service directly through another method - never use the number they’ve stated or the email link from the message.
You may receive an email saying that your email account is going to be closed, and the only way to prevent this is by clicking on a link to confirm your details. Instead of doing this, contact your email provider, like Sky, Gmail or Yahoo, directly and ask what’s going on. Your provider will never send you a spontaneous warning, especially if your account is relatively account.
Who hackers might claim to be
Now you know the types of scams that are going around, it’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the types of personas scammers might adopt in order to try and scam you over the phone.
Your mobile provider
As of April-May 2021, we’ve been made aware that Vodafone and EE customers are receiving scams via text message, claiming to be from their provider. We are advising customers to be extra vigilant and cautious, particularly when messages contain links that wish to direct you elsewhere.
You can forward anything suspicious to 7726 (Vodafone) so the links can be tracked. But if you believe the text is suspicious, don’t reply or click on any links - simply ignore, report, and delete the message.
If you’re with Asda mobile, texts from us will only ever come from 2732.
Similarly, you may receive a text claiming to be from Royal Mail, DPD, Hermes, DHL, UPS, Yodel, and more. This text may say that you have missed a delivery, so you need to click the following link to track and reorder it.
Of course, if you haven’t ordered anything, you’ll know this is false, but if you’re concerned about your item, you can go to the delivery provider’s page separately and track your order.
Someone may contact you and claim to be from your bank, saying there’s an issue with your account or your card, or that money has been stolen. They may ask for your details, such as your card number, to confirm your identity.
This is a very common scam and your bank will never ask you to do this over the phone.
Another common scam is the call from someone claiming to work for HMRC, claiming that there’s a problem with your tax or tax bill. Once again, HMRC would never text or call you to reveal private information.
It’s a familiar call - “you’ve been in an accident and it wasn’t your fault.” These scams work entirely on coincidence - if you have actually recently been in a car accident, just know that it’s unlikely that a random company would contact you about compensation.
Call your own insurance company on their personal number to discuss this, rather than getting involved in these calls.
You may get a call from someone claiming to be an employee of a popular IT company, like Microsoft, saying that your computer has a virus and you need to download an antivirus software. This is actually usually spyware that infiltrates your computer and steals your data.
IT companies don’t contact customers like this.
As the vaccine rollout has begun, some people are receiving text messages claiming to be from the NHS saying they’re eligible for their vaccine and to follow a link to book an appointment.
This link sends users to a false website asking for contact details and bank details for verification. If you do get a text, it’s probably best to go on the website yourself separately, and know you’ll never need to enter card details.
Of course, there are a number of other personas scammers may try to adopt to deceive you into giving over personal information. If you find it difficult to identify whether the caller or message is legitimate, below are some top tips for avoiding being scammed altogether.
How to avoid phone scams
There’s no such thing as too cautious when it comes to your private information. Being extra vigilant and wary in these types of situations is the first way of avoiding becoming a victim of a scam.
There are a number of other measures you can take to increase your safety:
- Set up a long and secure password, PIN, or biometric security (Face ID and iris scanning) on your mobile phone to ensure no one but you can access this device. This is also helpful if your phone gets lost or stolen
- Don’t write your passwords or PIN numbers down anywhere on your device or on paper, as these can be found and traced - instead, use a password manager to securely store all of your passwords so you don’t have to rely on memory
- Change all of your passwords as quickly as possible if your phone goes missing
- Don’t respond to unknown or unexpected numbers or messages
- Don’t click links, install apps, or files from unknown sources - if a caller or message says you need to download a certain software (perhaps for antivirus means), don’t. Only download through legitimate sites like the Apple Store and Google Play Store
- Don’t visit suspicious URLs. The easiest way to identify if a website is safe and legitimate is by checking to see if it has a green padlock symbol in the search bar. If it doesn’t, leave the website immediately
- Ensure you wipe your phone and remove your SIM card before selling it or giving it to someone else
- Don’t ever give out private information, such as bank details or passwords, over the phone, via text, or to someone at the door
- Block numbers that are hassling you so you don’t risk answering and being placed on a premium call rate
All of these tips are good practice for avoiding being scammed over the phone, but if it does happen to you despite this, then here’s how to report the scam.
How to report phone scams
If you believe you’ve just been scammed, you should report it immediately. There are a number of different people and UK organisations you can report to, such as:
- Your mobile network provider
- ActionFraud, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime centre, on 0300 123 2040
- Citizens Advice
- The Metropolitan Police if you feel like you’re in danger
- PhonePayPlus, who regulate premium rate numbers
Stay wary and vigilant in the wave of these recurring phone scams, as our technology can be as much of a hindrance as a help. And remember, if something seems suspicious, it probably is. It’s always better to contact a company directly, rather than following links.
Follow Asda mobile on Twitter for more tips on staying safe, as well as a host of smartphone articles and app reviews.