Ofcom plans crackdown on fake number scams

News, Telecoms

UK phone companies will make it harder for fraudster
s to use their networks for fake number scams, under a range of measures proposed by Ofcom today.

Almost 45 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts last summer. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and nearly a million of these consumers followed the scammers’ instructions, risking financial loss and emotional distress.

Ofcom works with phone companies to help them block calls that imitate – or ‘spoof’ – the phone numbers of legitimate organisations, such as banks and Government departments. But fraudsters quickly adapt to changing circumstances and technology. During the pandemic, for example, criminals have been texting fraudulent vaccination links and impersonating delivery companies.

Fighting fraud from fake UK phone numbers

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. Examples include calls originating from abroad that do not have a valid caller ID, using a number that does not meet the UK’s 10- or 11-digit format, and calls appearing to be from numbers that are already on Ofcom’s Do Not Originate list.

The guidance on blocking calls from abroad that falsely use a UK number is based on an initiative developed by industry, which some providers have already implemented voluntarily. One of these – TalkTalk – previously stated it had seen a 65% reduction in complaints about scam calls since it introduced this measure.

Stopping scammers using real phone numbers

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. These companies can 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.

Ofcom’s 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.

Using technology to fight fraud in the future

Scammers’ tactics are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated, so there is no single solution that will stamp out scam calls. But Ofcom is examining how technology can help prevent scam calls at source in the future.

For calls originating in the UK, this would involve the network from which the call is being made “authenticating” the caller’s ID information before connecting them.

Says Huw Saunders, Ofcom’s Director of Network Infrastructure and Resilience:

“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.

Adds Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at Uswitch.com

“For millions of Brits, scam calls and texts have worsened in the last two years. We’ve relied on phones to keep us connected to family, friends and work, yet our reliance has also left us vulnerable to scammers seeking to take advantage.

“It is positive news to see Ofcom has committed to working with telecoms providers to reduce the number of suspicious texts and calls that we receive.

“Scammers are constantly using advanced technology to help bypass measures that phone companies take to tackle the issues, so it’s important that the regulator is working with providers to get ahead of these criminals.

Ofcom must ensure that any efforts to stop the scourge of nuisance calls also focus on landline phones, as our own research found that scammers now represent more than a quarter of all calls to our landlines.”

If you’re struggling with scam calls or texts, you can report them to your network operator or forward them to the ‘7726’ service. For landline customers, you can also register with the Telephone Preference Service, which is in place to cut down on the amount of telemarketing calls that you receive.

Chris Price
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