The Government is planning to bolster its attack on financial scammers by finally extending the ban on pension cold calls to all financial products, five years after Aviva launched a campaign demanding the practice be outlawed.
Pensions cold calling came into force in January 2019 through a tweak to the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), policed by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Companies which break the rules are liable for fines of up to £500,000, although only a handful of firms have been caught, and most of those have been legitimate businesses which, while breaking the rules, have simply failed to gain consent. The largest monetary penalty so far has been £140,000 for Fulham-based business EB Associates Group.
Meanwhile, the real scammers have continued almost unchecked.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Scammers devastate lives and livelihoods – preying on people’s fears to cheat them out of their money. To clamp down on these crimes, we have to prevent fraudsters infiltrating their way into people’s lives in the first place.
“That’s why we’re stopping scams at source by taking away the routes used to target victims, keeping people safe and shielding them from the criminals.”
The plans include measures to stop scam texts, which often appear to be from trusted brands. Examples include fraudsters pretending to be from the Royal Mail asking to rearrange a delivery, or to be from a bank with a request for people to transfer money.
The measures are part of the new fraud strategy that ministers will launch this week.
Ofcom research shows 41 million people were targeted by suspicious calls and texts last summer, although it is thought that the vast majority of calls still originate from abroad – outside the jurisdiction of the UK authorities.
And it is this issue that many in the telemarketing industry believe will mean the new measures will do little to deter the fraudsters. One source said: “By and large most scammers operate from overseas, way out of reach of any UK legislation. The vast majority of them do not offer you financial products, they try to get to you by claiming to be from broadband providers and then getting your bank details. The only way to get to them that is to block those calls at source.”
The move comes as Ofcom is launching a consultation on ways to stamp out spoofing, a popular tactic by scammers to trick people into thinking a phone call is from a trusted person or organisation.
Although the regulator is not making any proposals for specific regulatory interventions at this stage, it is inviting stakeholders’ views on how Calling Line Identification (CLI) authentication might work in the UK and the extent to which actions providers are already taking are likely to address the problem of number spoofing.
In response, NordVPN cybersecurity expert Marijus Briedis said: “Spoofing is an absolute menace to the UK public so hopefully Ofcom’s actions will help to nip a wave of phone call scams in the bud.
“By successfully imitating the phone numbers of local businesses, banks or even neighbours, scammers have a foot in the door when it comes to persuading people to answer their call and trust them. The results can be devastating, with some victims losing huge sums or giving away valuable personal information that can lead to more fraud.
“The rise in these attacks in recent years, along with other popular types of fraud like phishing emails, is completely unacceptable. Consumers shouldn’t have to spend their days dodging these scams, and the longer they are allowed to flourish, the harder it is to deter new criminals from trying them out.
“Worryingly, advances in AI technology like voice cloning, which can imitate the sound of relatives, are tailor-made for spoofers to make future scams even more convincing.”
“Consumers must stay vigilant. Remember the only way to stay safe online and on mobile phones is to refuse to give out personal information to anyone who calls you.”
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