Millions of people have been on the receiving end of potential scam texts or calls in the last three months, new research has revealed.
Some four in five people said they received a suspicious message, in the form of either a text, recorded message or live phone call to a landline or mobile, representing an estimated 44.6million adults, according to data from Ofcom.
Scams are most commonly attempted via text with 71 per cent of people saying they have received a suspicious message.
A further 44 per cent who had received a suspicious text message reported receiving such a message at least once a week.
Millions have been on the receiving end of potential scam texts or calls in the last three months
While 75 per cent of those aged 16 to 34 were targeted with scam texts, suspicious calls continue to be a threat for landline users, with older people particularly susceptible.
Ofcom says three in five over 75s reported receiving a potential scam call to their landline.
Meanwhile, 53 per cent of respondents who received a suspicious live phone call on a landline over the last three months said they got a call at least once a week.
A further 43 per cent reported getting a suspect call to their mobile phone.
Some 53 per cent of people that received a suspicious text either deleted the message whilst 52 per cent blocked the number.
This is compared to 44 per cent of people receiving a suspicious recorded message who blocked the number.
In the last three months alone, two per cent reported following the scammers’ instructions in a message or call.
This equates to almost a million people, who risk financial loss and emotional distress if a scam attempt is successful.
One of the main reasons for the increase in scams is thought to be the pandemic where fraudsters have been taking advantage of more people relying on their phones.
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: ‘This latest research reinforces how dramatically scam calls and texts have risen during the pandemic – with fraudsters relentless in their efforts to trick people into giving away their money and personal information.
‘Businesses and the telecoms industry must do more to protect consumers, by making it harder for fraudsters to exploit systemic weaknesses to reach potential victims and by improving how they use telecommunications to reach their customers.’
Many of the scam texts are disguised as being from delivery firms in a bid to encourage users to click on them.
Nick Baker, telecoms expert at Uswitch, added: ‘Scam texts have exploded during lockdown. Millions of us have received messages claiming to be from the tax authorities, parcel delivery firms and even the NHS.
‘Many of these messages are cleverly disguised, but clicking on the links can result in your data or even your money being stolen.
‘The volume of nuisance calls on landlines has increased in the same period too – in fact one in five landline customers have told us they avoid answering their phone in case it’s a scammer.
People are encouraged to report any texts that are suspicious as they could be a scam
‘Surprisingly, more people told us they received suspicious calls on their landline than they did on their mobile phones.
‘If you’re struggling with scam calls on your landline, make sure you have registered for the Telephone Preference Service, which should reduce the amount of sales and marketing calls you receive. If you suspect you’re being targeted by a scammer, hang up immediately.
‘Never give out personal details on the phone unless you’re 100 per cent confident that you’re talking to an official caller, and be just as suspicious of links in texts and emails.’
What can you do if receiving a scam call or text?
Ofcom is encouraging anyone who receives a suspicious text message to report it by forwarding the message to 7726, which directs the message to the mobile provider.
These numbers can then be investigated and potentially blocked if found to be a persistently rogue number – helping to flush out fraudsters and prevent more people being exposed to scam attempts.
If you’ve received a scam call, you can report it to Action Fraud, which is the reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Reports of fraud and any other financial crime in Scotland should be made to Police Scotland via 101.
Specialist screening services to block calls from unknown numbers are also available and customers can speak to their provider about what solutions may suit them best.
In addition, Stop Scams UK recently launched a new number that enables customers to directly contact their bank, to check whether they are being pursued by fraudsters falsely claiming to be calling from their bank.
Customers of many of the UK’s largest banks can dial 159 to speak to an operator who can confirm whether the contact is genuine.
Those who receive suspicious phone calls should report them to Action Fraud, Ofcom says
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s networks and communications group director, said: ‘Criminals who defraud people using phone and text scams can cause huge distress and financial harm to their victims, and their tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
‘Stay alert to any unsolicited contact. Put the phone down if you have any suspicion that it is a scam call, and don’t click on any links in text messages you’re unsure about. Report texts to 7726 and scam calls to Action Fraud or Police Scotland.’
What is Ofcom doing to tackle scams?
Ofcom has worked with telecoms operators to tackle scams and nuisance calls for several years but said it is concerned about the significant rise in scam calls and texts over the last 18 months.
The regulator added tactics used by fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated including using multiple communication channels and spoofing well-known companies and organisations.
It said it is working closely with industry, police, government and other regulators to ensure strong actions are in place to tackle the threat posed by scam text and calls.
Ofcom surveyed 2,000 adults in the UK in September 2021 with all responses covering suspicious calls or messages received in the three months prior to the survey.