Ofcom crackdown on epidemic of scam calls and texts

Crackdown on fake number fraud: Ofcom reveals new plans for phone networks to curb epidemic of scam calls and texts

  • New plans designed to stop scammers using fake phone numbers
  • Aimed at stop scammers imitating numbers of legitimate organisations
  • Almost 45m people were targeted by scam calls and texts last summer
  • Ofcom proposing strengthened rules and guidance to combat number spoofing

Phone networks could be forced to make it harder for scammers to use their networks, under a range of measures proposed by regulator Ofcom.

The new plans are designed to stop scammers from using fake phone numbers and accessing real ones as well as extending ‘spoofed calls’ protections to cover all phone companies.

Spoofed calls are when scammers change their caller ID to disguise their identity from the person they are calling.   

Scammers typically spoof phone numbers in order to appear to be from a particular location or organisation, increasing the chances of people picking up and being tricked.

Fake: Many delivery fraud cases that start with a text message are from scammers imitating Royal Mail, DPD and Hermes.

Almost 45million people were targeted by scam calls and texts last summer, according to Ofcom.

It found that criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with nearly a million of those affected following the scammers’ instructions, risking financial loss and emotional distress.

Although Ofcom already works with phone companies to help them block calls that imitate the phone numbers of legitimate organisations, such as banks and government departments, fraudsters appear to be quickly adapting to changing circumstances and technology.

During the pandemic, for example, criminals have been texting fraudulent vaccination links and impersonating delivery companies.

Huw Saunders, director of network infrastructure and resilience at Ofcom, said: ‘The threat posed by scammers has grown significantly in recent years, and the sophisticated tactics used by these criminals can have devastating consequences for victims.

‘We’re taking action so phone companies have stronger systems in place to disrupt scams.

‘While there is no silver bullet that will end the scourge of scam calls completely, we’re working with industry on how we can use technology to make it as difficult as possible to reach people.’

What is Ofcom proposing?

Ofcom is proposing strengthened rules and guidance to combat number spoofing.

All telephone networks involved in the transmission of a call will be expected to block numbers that are clearly spoofed.

This rule would apply to all phone companies, ensuring the protection applies to millions of people.

Spoofed numbers can be identified in a number of ways, including calls coming from abroad that do not have a valid caller ID and those using a number that does not meet the UK’s 10 or 11 digit format.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said:

‘Consumers are being bombarded every day with scams, and exploiting weaknesses in the telecoms network has been one way that fraudsters have tricked victims out of significant sums of money, so it’s good to see the regulator taking action to crack down on this type of fraud.

‘Companies should be doing more checks on business customers, and as fraudsters are constantly evolving their tactics, it’s important that Ofcom and industry leaders continue to work together on proactive network level solutions that prevent fraudulent activity.’ 

Ofcom is also proposing new guidance to help companies prevent scammers from accessing valid phone numbers.

Ofcom allocates millions of telephone numbers, usually in large blocks, to telecoms companies, which then transfer the numbers to other businesses or individuals.

All phone companies are expected to take reasonable steps to stop their numbers being misused, but these efforts can vary.

Its new guide sets out clear expectations for phone companies to make sure they run ‘know your customer’ checks on business customers.

These could involve checking the Companies House register, fraud risk databases and the FCA’s Financial Services Register to uncover information that may indicate a high risk of misuse by the customer seeking to use phone numbers.

Phone companies should also act to prevent any further potential misuse – this may include suspending the number and reporting evidence of fraudulent activity to law enforcement.  

What to do if you’ve become a victim of a scam

• Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam, they will advise you what you need to do.

• Report the scam to the police.

• If you’ve been defrauded or experienced cybercrime report it to Action Fraud either online or by calling 0300 123 2040.

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