How to recognise, avoid, and report phone scams

Phone scams and online scams are an unfortunate form of crime and fraud that has emerged during the last few decades.

Last updated: 24th Oct 2019 at 9:00am

These scams can look convincingly genuine and may come in the form of a text message, email or phone call.

Due to the high level of phone scams, we wanted to make you aware of how to recognise one before it’s too late… Let’s look at some examples of phishing scams and learn to avoid and report phone scams.

How to recognise phone scams

Phone scams can be avoided if you know what to look out for. Below are the most common types of phone scams:

  • Phishing scams - Received as a text message or email, these attempt to obtain your personal or financial information, usernames and password. They often appear to have come from a trustworthy source.
  • Missed call mobile phone scams - Your phone shows a missed call and when you call it back, you are redirected to a premium rate number, costing up to £15 per call. You may get a recorded message telling you that you have won a prize and need to call a premium rate number to claim it.
  • Text message scams - You receive a text message from someone you don’t know. You respond by messaging back or calling, possibly to say that they have a wrong number, and are then engaged in a premium rate call or premium rate SMS conversation.
  • Phone insurance scams - You have purchased a new mobile phone and someone calls to sell you insurance, claiming to be from the shop where you purchased it. You may end up with no insurance, poor quality insurance or be coerced into giving out your personal or financial information.
  • Ringtone scams - You see an offer for a cheap or free ringtone. You accept the offer and unknowingly subscribe to a service that continues to send you ringtones at a premium rate.

Phone scams and online scam examples

  • HMRC text message scams - HM Revenues and Customs may send a text message to your mobile phone but they will never request any financial or personal information from you in a text message. In particular, if a tax refund is offered in exchange for your information, then this will not be genuine. A scam text message might read ‘You have an outstanding tax refund of £265.84GBP for tax year 15/16. Please fill out the following form to process your refund’. You can read more about HMRC scams and how to report them here.
  • Paypal scam - You receive an email from Paypal saying that there has been unauthorised access of your account and your service has been limited. You are asked to click on a link and enter your personal and financial details.
  • Email provider scam - You receive an email saying that your account is about to be closed. You are asked to click on a link in order to confirm your details and to confirm that your account is still active.

If you are unsure if such messages are genuine, then visit the website directly through your bookmarks or through a search engine result. If you want to email the company, then only use an email address found on their website.

How to avoid phone scams

Being vigilant is the best way of avoiding a phone or online scam. If you receive an offer that sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn’t genuine. Some ways that you can avoid scams include:

  • Set up a passcode, PIN or biometric security on your mobile phone. Biometric security refers to security measures which use your fingerprint, iris, or face to unlock your phone – so no one else can access it!
  • Don’t keep passwords or PINS in a text or email that can be accessed on your phone.
  • Report stolen phones straight away and change passwords for any online accounts accessed through the phone.
  • Do not respond to unknown numbers.
  • Don’t install apps or files from an unknown source.
  • Don’t visit suspicious looking URLs. A genuine URL will have a green padlock symbol appear before the URL. If you visit a suspicious URL then close it straight away.
  • If you sell your mobile phone, wipe it by performing a factory reset and remember to remove your memory card and SIM card.

How to report phone scams

If you believe you have received a phone scam text or email or if you have been unfortunate enough to have fallen victim to a scam, then you should report it.

The UK has a national fraud and cybercrime centre called ActionFraud. You can report scams to ActionFraud as well as read news on the latest scams. If you have fallen victim to a scam then you will receive a police crime reference number from ActionFraud.

If you have been a victim of premium phone number fraud then you should also inform your mobile phone provider and PhonePayPlus, who regulate premium rate numbers. You can also send the word ‘STOP’ to the subscription number, which legally obliges the premium rate service to end.

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