How phone scammers tried to rip me off

They’re persistent and have more personal data than they should – just how do you know the scammers from the real thing?

Last Friday I spent the day as a “money expert” in a pop-up shop for BBC One’s Rip Off Britain. This essentially meant helping people with different financial issues where they felt hard done by. Most of these were pre-booked by the TV team, but I also saw a few “walk-ins”. There was a common theme throughout the day – people are getting still getting scammed by cold callers.

This is known as “Vishing” (short for Voice Phishing), and the con artists either try to extract personal information from you, or worse, convince you to give them money.

The stories I heard were quite staggering and involved tens of thousands of pounds lost. The victims had been convinced that there was fraudulent activity on their bank accounts and they needed to move their life savings to a “safe” account. But really they were transferring the money to the scammers.

Since they willingly moved the money there’s a good chance it’s lost for good, with no way to claw it back.

How the scammers tried – and failed – to con me

These scammers will try their luck with anyone – including me.

For 18 months we’ve been repeatedly called on the landline by “TalkTalk”. The caller always politely introduces themselves and tells me there’s an urgent security issue with my PC and he wants to install software to fix the problem. Worrying stuff.

But, more worrying is that this is also a scam. The fact that I left TalkTalk well before the calls started is the obvious giveaway, and I’m computer literate enough to know what he was asking me to do was dodgy. But not everyone is. There’s a similar scam where the caller claims to be from “Windows” (not even Microsoft) – and it’s easy to see how people could be scared into following the instructions.

I once pretended to be going along with the scammers requests to see what would be asked.  First, they want you to install software which lets them take over your computer. Once that’s done they might ask you to go into your internet banking, or they could just let the software monitor every tap and click you make online in order to get all your login details. Then they can steal your cash.

Using your personal information against you

The fraudsters are getting more sophisticated all the time, and many of the phone scammers often sound legitimate, particularly since they often know your name, address and other bits of personal data. This was the case with the TalkTalk scammers.

With each call, the person at the other end of the line always quoteed not just my name and address, but also my TalkTalk account number in an attempt to prove he’s from TalkTalk. But we know they aren’t from TalkTalk – so how the hell have they got my data?

I’ve very little love for TalkTalk, and it’s denied to me on several occasions that this information was hacked in the infamous data breach of 2015. We’ll, the scammers have certainly got my information somehow – and it’s information they could only have got from TalkTalk.

And it’s this kind of detail which makes people believe scammers are real and more likely to follow the instructions.

How to protect yourself from scammers

Though you can bar cold callers through the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), this makes no difference to scammers.

The solution we found won’t work for everyone – we hardly use our landline so we’ve actually turned the ringer off!

But if you do use your phone you can follow these rules to help protect you, your money and your data instead.

  • If a “bank” or a business you have an account with calls, hang up and phone them back on your mobile phone using the number you have on your bank card or bill. Failing that look for the number on their website.
  • Never give out personal information to cold callers, including full passwords. Even legitimate callers shouldn’t ask for this information (which is why they often ask for a couple of numbers or letters). Don’t tap the digits in either as they can often record these.
  • Watch out for email and SMS fraudsters too. They operate in similar ways in attempts to get you to click on links or download software which will compromise your security.

I think this video from the TakeFive “Scam Academy” campaign shows how easy it is to be taken in by scammers


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