Ofcom pushes reporting services after summer of scams

The vast majority of UK consumers received suspicious phone calls or text messages this summer, according to Ofcom, which is now pushing reporting services to help mitigate telecoms scams.

The UK regulator has released the results of a new survey that showed that 82% of adults, or around 44.6 million people, have received a suspicious message – be it in the form of a recorded message, live phone call, or text message – in the past three months.

It is worth pointing out here that Ofcom’s data is based on a survey of 2,000 people carried out in mid-September, and it is extrapolating its results from that. But that’s a fair-sized sample of people; there clearly is a big problem here.

Text messages are the fraudsters’ method of choice, with 71% of people having received a dodgy text; the 16-34 age group were the most heavily targeted here, with 75% answering in the affirmative. Meanwhile, 44% of those receiving suspicious text messages said they got one at least once a week.

Numbers were also high for receipt of suspicious calls to both landlines and mobile phones; the older age group – people aged 75 or older – are particularly susceptible to the former, with 61% getting suspicious calls to the landline.

Ofcom has a lot more statistics in its report, but they all send essentially the same message: scam calls and messages are affecting a serious number of people in the UK. And its data is backed up by price comparison service, which piggybacked on the survey with some figures of its own.

“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,” said telecoms expert Nick Baker. “Many of these messages are cleverly disguised, but clicking on the links can result in your data or even your money being stolen.”

The figures for those actually taken in by potential scams are, thankfully, much lower, but in absolute terms we’re still talking fairly big numbers. Ofcom reports 2% of people said they had followed scammers’ instructions sent via message or phone call in the past three months, which translates to almost 1 million UK adults. As the regulator puts it, those people “risk financial loss and emotional distress if a scam attempt is successful.” It did not provide any data for successful scams, but nonetheless, 1 million people being taken in by scam attempts in just three months is worth highlighting.

As is the fact that most people are apparently unaware that they can do anything about it.

Slightly more than half of people receiving suspicious text messages either deleted the message or blocked the number or both, and just under half blocked the numbers of scammers using voice calls or recorded messages. That’s obviously a start. But anecdotal evidence suggests its not highly effective; how many of us regularly block numbers only to receive the same scam message from a different number just days later?

Whether services designed to enable consumers to report suspicious activity are any more effective remains to be seen, but its probably worthwhile Ofcom is having a stab at publicising them, which is exactly what it is doing.

Its data shows that 79% of mobile users do not know about the 7726 number for reporting suspect calls and messages. Using the number forwards all the information to the mobile provider, which can enable numbers to be investigated and potentially blocked. Again, some additional data from the regulator on the efficacy of this service, including how many numbers are actually blocked as a result, might have been helpful. But if people start using it more, perhaps more statistics will follow.

Ofcom is also keen to remind consumers that they can also report scam calls to Action Fraud in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or to Police Scotland. It also highlighted the various screening services offered by telecoms providers, and a new Stop Scams UK number (159) designed to address attempts at banking fraud.

Arguably, more could be done though.

Katia Gonzalez, head of fraud prevention and security at BICS, which therefore has a vested interest in this, calls for a “fundamental rethink in approach” on the back of the Ofcom data.

“We need to do more to stop the scammers at source. This means greater collaboration across the entire communications ecosystem. Telecoms firms, governments and regulators need to work together, with better coordination between countries, and an open, proactive approach to sharing resources and information on the latest vulnerabilities,” Gonzalez said.

She probably has a point.

One comment

  1. Avatar Jan Morgan 13/07/2022 @ 8:02 am

    I contacted ofcom as Three wouldn’t give me my pac code as wanted a new provider. I’m not sure what happened but ofcom could have helped and given me the number for Pac code but after looking up l found a number for pac code ,so why wasn’t l helped by ofcom when had all my rights to move my number from Three to O2. They definitely didn’t help me . Still having problems as Three have disconnected any calls on my three phone and nothing has changed a I contacted the ombudsman and they asked what happens if Three don’t give your pac code and that’s exactly what happened you shouldn’t be working in ofcom if you don’t at least give advice or help.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.