Ofcom warns caller ID scams will take years to kill off

caller2Ofcom has admitted the UK is lagging other countries in the war against so-called “spoofing” – the technique widely used by telemarketing scammers so they can hide their real number – conceding it will be at least four years before the issue is finally addressed.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box, Ofcom director of network infrastructure and resilience Huw Saunders warned that caller IDs should not be used as a means of verifying a caller’s identification as fraudsters are increasingly changing their caller ID to disguise their own identity.

Saunders added: “This problem is global in its scope. It’s an unfortunate place to be in, but the same message is being given by our counterparts in the US, Canada, France, Australia and elsewhere.”

However, he admits the UK is lagging other countries, such as the US, in tackling the problem.”They [the US] are ahead of the UK, but that’s not an issue that can be solved overnight. It’s going to take a few years. If you look at a comparable situation in France, for example, they now have a timetable for the implementation of a particular technical solution and that is over a three-year period.”

In the UK, the current Public Switched Telephone Network is being updated to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), with a target date of the end 2025.

Saunders continued: “It’s only when the vast majority of people are on the new technology (VOIP) that we can implement a new patch to address this problem [of spoofing].”

This is not a new issue, however. The first mainstream caller ID spoofing service was launched in the US in 2004 and was said to be used for both lawful and unlawful purposes by the likes of collection agencies, law enforcement, and private investigators. In 2016, UK law was changed to force legitimate telemarketing companies to display their phone numbers. Any company found to be breaching this legislation can be fined up to £2m by Ofcom.

But, of course, this does not deter rogue firms. A recent report from industry body UK Finance suggested the number of reported cases of impersonation fraud – including spoof calls – nearly doubled last year to 40,000 but the real figure is likely to be much higher due to under-reporting.

The move follows growing concerns over a return to nuisance call bombardment during the pandemic, with official figures showing consumer complaints about telemarketing activity had hit a four-year high.

According to figures from the Information Commissioner’s Office, in January and February this year there were a total of 25,575 complaints made about breaches of the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) covering live calls, automated calls and SMS.

This is the highest figure since 2017, when there were a total of 31,774 during the same period; in 2018 it was 15,067, in 2019 it hit 22,742 and in 2020 there were 17,370 complaints.

In January, the ICO warned that a third (33%) of last year’s complaints did not fit into any of the established categories, leading the regulator to suggest they are the result of nuisance contact relating to Covid-19.

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