/ Scams

Scam watch: bombarded by phoney ‘market research’ calls

A member got in touch to tell us they’ve been receiving at least one call a week from a ‘market research’ company requesting personal data. Have you had a similar experience?

At least once a week for the last year, a member had been receiving calls from a company asking who their internet service provider is, the operating system they use, whether they use cash or card, their age and, once, even who they bank with.

The member had been playing along, providing silly answers until they hung up, but they always called back a few days later.

Have you had a similar experience?

Scam call centre lists

It seems the member’s number had found its way on to the contact list of a scam call centre. The aim in this initial call is to gather enough information about you to attempt further scam calls.

If you answer the questions truthfully, you show yourself to be trusting – a quality fraudsters seek in potential victims. The follow-on call would likely take the form of a fake alert ‘from your internet service provider’, claiming you have a virus on your computer or a problem with your broadband.

Once you become suitably panicked, the fraudster would persuade you to install ‘remote access software’, which allows them to see whatever you’re doing on-screen. Their final act is to claim your internet banking was compromised by hackers and have you log in to your account to move your money ‘to safety’.

While you do this, the fraudster is noting all your online banking passwords and security details, so they can ransack your account. It’s a truly diabolical scam which leaves your entire online and banking life compromised.

Scammers are unlikely to remove your details from their lists if you ask them to. So you’ll have to take matters into your own hands.

Call-blocking solutions

Registering your number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) at Tpsonline.org.uk is a good first step to stop unsolicited sales and marketing calls – it’s also free.

Organisations are legally required to avoid calling TPS-registered numbers. This won’t stop scam calls though, so speak to your phone company about call-blocking solutions. You can also buy standalone devices such as the trueCall Call Blocker.

Report scam calls to Action Fraud at Actionfraud.police.uk, or if you live in Scotland you can report scams to the Police by calling 101.

Comments

No doubt this scam centre has a few thousand phone numbers, so that blocking one just leads to another. Once again, the scam caller is a persistent nuisance and is something that is difficult for an individual to stop. The victim may know about the scam, but he/she is getting no help to get rid of the caller/s. I get a spate of these every so often and then none for a bit. Fortunately I can recognise them instantly and hang up, within seconds, but having to answer the phone is annoying when I’m busy. My old phone automatically went to answer-phone after three rings, my current one doesn’t.
One useful tip: If the caller says “Hello” and doesn’t identify him/herself immediately, hang up. If it is important or someone who really wants you they will ring again. Scam callers seldom ring twice if the first attempt fails.

I get regular calls several times a week between 6-7pm starting 0117478. The last 4 digits are always different. This has been going on for months now and if I did answer, there was nobody on the other end and the call ended. I don’t bother answering now, but they still persist.

These blocks of numbers need identifying and stopped from operating.

I have seen a significant rise in these so called market research calls in recent weeks and have identified many that originate from the rogue companies that intend to engage in scams at a later date. The information obtained is used to commit fraud and intended to fool consumers into believing that calls received at a later date are from their current provider.

These calls are of course in breach of legislation when made to numbers registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

The calls I have received usually take the format of the caller stating they will be quick and simply wish to ask 5 quick questions about a particular topic. These topics cover a variety of services or goods such as broadband services, mobile services, banking and home appliances etc.

The caller will typically ask questions such as which broadband provider a customer uses, what package they are subscribed too, the monthly cost and how long they have used that provider. This information is then used at a later date to commit fraud.

A consumer will receive a call weeks later from a scammer introducing themselves as the customers broadband provider, advising them that an overpayment of their broadband service has been made in error, of the monthly amount the scammer already knows and they are due a refund. The customer would be asked to confirm their bank or card details in order for the refund to be processed. As the caller introduces themselves as the correct provider and knows how much the customer pays each month, customers are fooled into believing the call is genuine and will often freely disclose their bank or card details.

This is also now occurring with rogue home appliance warranty and service plan companies. Consumers receive market research calls asking about home appliances, their preferred product manufacturers, what products they own, the makes of these products, if they have extended warranties and who provides those warranties. Weeks later the customer receives a call from the scammer introducing themselves as the customers warranty provider and advising their extended warranty or service plan is due for renewal. Alternatively, customers are advised an overpayment was made in error and the customer is due a refund. The caller will ask for bank or card details to ensure the customers payment information is up to date in order to renew the plan or issue the refund.

Being aware of these calls I have put their tactics to the test on several occasions. Having received a market research call about home appliances I engaged with the caller providing false information about appliances I own, telling the caller I owned a Hotpoint washing machine, Beko fridge freezer and a Panasonic microwave, of which the washing machine had a warranty from a well known provider.

Weeks later I received a call claiming to be the well known warranty provider, advising the warranty for my Hotpoint washing machine was due for renewal and they required payment Card details to ensure my payment information was up to date. The caller then asked if I would like to add my Beko fridge freezer and Panasonic microwave to the plan at further cost. I acted surprised, asking how they knew I had these appliances. The caller replied by stating my other appliances were discussed when I set up the washing machine plan and they were noted on file even though I decided not to take cover for those at the time. This I imagine would convince and fool many.

My advice is not to engage with market research callers and avoid disclosing any information whatsoever. Politely refuse and if the caller is persistent then simply hang up.

I would also encourage consumers to report calls of this nature to the ICO (Information Commissioners Office), which you can do online relatively quickly. Consumers who have their number registered with the Telephone Preference Service should also report this to the TPS.

RGradeless says:
16 May 2022

Companies who are registered members of the Market Research Society (MRS) are permitted to make unsolicited calls . Just because the caller says they are conducting market research does not mean they are members of the Market Research Society. If the caller says they are conducting market research ask if they are members of the MRS and for their membership number. If they prevaricate then end the call.

Calls from MRS members are for the purpose of conducting surveys to inform commercial, government, political and personal decisions. The MRS does not share your details including your personal contact information. You can decline to take part if you wish.

RGradeless, thank you, that is useful to know.

To my mind there is a legislative loophole that allows ‘market research’ calls to be exempt from the prohibition of ‘cold calling’.

Registration with the TPS gives theoretical protection from nuisance calls but rogues don’t comply with rules.

The scamming industry feeds off information gathered by various means and I expect our digital footprint contributes much of it through cookies and the sophisticated analytics in so many on-line activities.

Building up a profile of every household and its possessions is no doubt the aim of the intermediaries behind the front-end scammers as that is their stock in trade which they can package and sell to the pests who ring us up and try to con us.

Hi John, I could be mistaken, but I was quite sure that market research calls were not exempt from legislation?

As I understood it, if a consumer has not given their consent, then calls of this type would be in breach of legislation. I will need to check on that.

Apologies, my mistake – marketing calls must not be made to numbers registered with the TPS but can be made to those not listed on the TPS.

Thanks for confirming that, Wingman.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of telecom customers are signed up to the Telephone Preference Service.

We have never registered because we don’t get many unwanted calls and the few that do ring our number are not likely to check the TPS database before doing so anyway.

I doubt that cookies are involved, to be honest – the scammers involved in this type of activity generally are doing it ‘on the cheap’ and are using fairly raw data like online phone number dumps (the Facebook export from a year ago being a particularly rich source) and then just repeat and adapt a script in the hope of finding victims through those numbers. I mention the Facebook dump in particular because it identified largely the kinds of Facebook early adopters in the West who would likely be worth scamming due to socio-economic status.

That said, any new sales technology that is developed has potential to be a new scam technology, because many scammers operate as legitimate businesses on the surface and may be able to obtain licences for genuinely innovative marketing kit that could enhance their operations. Marketing tech firms have a responsibility there to vet customers to whom they sell.

Similarly, it’s entirely possible that as our countermeasures to scam methods get better and squeeze the criminals, those criminals may in turn get more sophisticated and leverage their ‘legitimate’ businesses to get access to the kind of sophisticated marketing (and frankly creepy) data that might otherwise only be available to sales teams.

There are companies out there that track your every move (as best they can, you can avoid this sort of thing by not doing random online surveys) and can sell data on you that will tell them things as specific as what wine you like, whether you have been on a caravan holiday and whether your pension is in a SIPP or company scheme.

These things skirt the legislation on personal data, which means they could potentially be bought by scam operations wanting to make their targeting for scams more scarily accurate.

But as it stands we are really facing scammers using fairly basic call centre techniques, which still prove highly effective in many cases. I pray they do not get more sophisticated, as this could rapidly elude our detection capability and make it seriously difficult to challenge such people, particularly as the most effective methods to shut them down rapidly remain largely outside government control and really require a counter-intelligence-type aggressive takedown operation capability (i.e cyberattacks on scam call centres) – which could begin to stretch diplomatic norms.

All of that said, Which? still cares about every such incident because it helps us apply expertise to the problems and tackle anything that may be:

1. In the supply chain i.e. if Amazon or similar retailers can do more to fix dodgy goods getting delivered
2. At a market level i.e. companies selling tech to scammers or faults in how data is shared/sold meaning scammers get the upper hand
3. Direct interventions we make with government agencies i.e. the NCSC based on what we are finding.
4. Through direct experience. Every time someone shares their experience of a scam here on Which? Conversation, it helps other people hearing the same script or getting called from the same number identify that they are being or have been scammed, because a comment exists here with the same information and they can find that through Google.

So my personal recommendation would be that if you do encounter a scam, even if you aren’t fooled and foil it yourself, let us know on here and report it through our scam sharer tool, which we are developing to be even more powerful and around which we conduct a lot of research to discover trends and make interventions at governmental levels. You can use the current tool here: https://act.which.co.uk/page/98778/data/1

I know I don’t often comment (but I do often lurk) – but there is specific, unique value to every contribution made here on scams we post content about that may not be immediately obvious, and I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight that and hopefully help more people get some justice out of the situation, and realise how much Which? is active on what is shared here, often behind the scenes.

Good to hear from you, Adam, and it’s clear (to me, anyway) that Which? is operating both behind the scenes and on stage, as it were, at a very effective level. Don’t be disheartened by the intemperate postings of a very small but sometimes vociferous minority.

Thanks for that explanation, Adam.

This is not the place for a discussion about cookies but I think it would be useful to have a Conversation about them and the proliferation of their use to follow people around on the internet. It’s not a nuisance in the offensive sense but it is an annoying interference.

Thanks Adam. It would be helpful if you and colleagues could post a little more frequently to provide reassurance that Which? is working for us.

I can identify with much of which Adam reports as potential risks, as I am frequently briefed to the dangers of ones personal information being sold onto marketing companies, by a relative engaged in local council and community affairs.

It is reassuring to know that Which? are working behind the scenes in an attempt to keep abreast of the ever increasing sophistication of the scammers.

These days cookies are ever present and one needs to accept them in order to access most web sites. They all make claims to access everything they can get their hands on in the way of data and personal details and all of them express the desire to share this detail around the web in any way they like. I automatically click on accepting these cookies in order to get on with the job in hand. I hope that at the end of every session all cookies are wiped from the machine, since I don’t allow any site to keep things for next time….. to make access easier and targeted. I simply don’t know what is retained from any web session and, given the choice, would not subscribe to any cookie anywhere. Perhaps there should be a cookie campaign for invasion of privacy.

Some sites make declining all but “essential” cookies simple. These are automatically off, or just reject all, and save. But others make it very difficult and I just avoid those sites. Be good if there were a standard presentation with rejected as the default .

Mike N says:
19 May 2022

It is not just scammers that use the Market Research ploy but so do lead generators who then pass on your information to life insurance companies and the like who then will bombard you with sales calls.

Faye said in the intro:
Organisations are legally required to avoid calling TPS-registered numbers. This won’t stop scam calls though, so speak to your phone company about call-blocking solutions. You can also buy standalone devices such as the trueCall Call Blocker.

I have long thought telecoms companies need to do more to protect us from scams. Individually, they can sell us products or services to reduce nuisance callers and profit extremely well off the backs of scammers, something I find immoral and indefensible.

So why hasn’t Which? or Ofcom gone after the telecoms companies to stop nuisance calls? As long as they can profit from scammers they are never going to change.

Isn’t it time we had a national telecoms defence system against scammers? The sold products and services prove there are effective solutions so they need to be applied nationally overseen by Ofcom.

Ofcom say on their website:
We also help to make sure people don’t get scammed and are protected from bad practices. This is particularly important for vulnerable or older people.
Our duties come from Parliament. Our priority is to look after you, and we sometimes do this by promoting competition among companies we regulate.

Ofcom do this by promoting competition? Really?????? I say they are NOT doing their duty to the people.

There have been many comments that give reasons against phone blockers such as the GP or hospital not being able to contact you. Isn’t it up to those organisations to make sure they CAN call you.

I don’t know the technology utilised by call blockers, but I do see many ways a national system could benefit all of us.
– Make sure all national calls are paid-for.
– Identify blocks of numbers bought by scammers and terminate their use.
– Make use of sites like Who Called Me?
– Stop robot and automated calls.
– Stop number spoofing.
– Set up international cooperation to stop foreign scammers.
– Advisory messages on answering e.g. appliance insurance companies who can run a dodgy legitimised business alongside their scamming activities – Warning this call may be a scam. Do not give the caller your bank or credit card details.

So why hasn’t Which? or Ofcom gone after the telecoms companies to stop nuisance calls?

“So why hasn’t Which? or Ofcom gone after the telecoms companies to stop nuisance calls?” I don’t see how this is possible:
– Blocking numbers known to be telepests doesn’t work as they can spoof numbers. At least the thieves who call me from abroad (using cheap VoIP) display random caller numbers.
– How do you block telepests calling me, without blocking the hospital, bank or whatever calling from a non-displayed number? Many legitimate callers do not display a number, to avoid you calling an organisation back without knowing who you need to speak to.
– What about your long-lost friend from schooldays, now abroad, who has found your number and wants to contact you, maybe via VoIP? This has happened to me several times. I also get extremely infrequent calls from such people seeking someone with the same name as me, who I wouldn’t want to block.

So I don’t use call blockers, and don’t see how unwanted calls can be distinguished from wanted ones.

Barbara says:
16 May 2022

One of my ‘hobbies’ is winding up scam/cold callers. Chat about anything, give incorrect answers and, if it’s about my ‘compromised’ internet I tell them to wait while I switch on the laptop, then just put down the phone, listen to them going ‘hello, hello’ and see how long they wait. My record is 18 minutes.

Jeff Page says:
16 May 2022

I keep getting texts stating I have an answerphone message. They always come overnight as I turn my phone off around 10/10.30 pm and when I put it on in the morning there’s a message. Obviously, this is another scam, and I’m wondering if someone is attempting to gather my information via the answer-phone messaging service. It’s always the same number.

Judith says:
16 May 2022

I have been getting spam emails which all have the common name “Kildare: in it with several numbers and letters before and after. Each one different. They are the usual phishing emails purporting to be from Norton, McAfee and other offers I find repulsive. I think my ISP should be able to block emails with with a common element

Peter Staidler says:
16 May 2022

Hi, I am registered with the TPS, for many years, but still get market research type calls. As with all other scam calls I, hopefully, do not give out personal information. When will this stop.

Sadly, TPS registration will not stop market research calls, Peter. It’s regarded as a legitimate use of phones to make unsolicited calls to carry out market research.

“As TPS registration only prevents marketing calls, organisations will still be able to call you for the purposes of genuine market research.” https://www.tpsservices.co.uk/telephone-preference-service.aspx

For years it has been common to pretend that sales calls are market research by starting off with a few questions. These callers should be reported to the TPS and to the ICO (Information Commissioners Office).

William Booker says:
19 May 2022

If I get a call which appears to be a scam call I just play along and give daft or misleading answers to keep the person on the line as long as possible. My favourite is the ‘your computer needs adjustment’. Answer – yes which one? and I then enjoy their answers and their ways of trying to get me to give away info. My record so far as been 14 minutes of their time wasted.

Peter G Burke says:
19 May 2022

Why is it after years of the corrupt government saying they would put a stop to this .
It as become much worst , easy way to stop it make all calls traceable.
Lets face it when as a government or council really improved anything never as far as im concerned.

Mebs says:
19 May 2022

I am Talktalk customer for many years . The Talktalk email service is really crap & easily get into , sometimes i don’t even have to log in it’s open , anybody has this same problem with Talktalk? I get about 10 Spam emails everyday very annoying. Any suggestions what to do . Haven’t bothered complaining to Talktalk cs as there useless.

JayZS says:
19 May 2022

I find that most scam calls take a few seconds before speaking, I assume in order that they may link into the autocall dialling system that they use. I usually tell them they have a wrong number.

Richard Graham Warren says:
28 May 2022

Your member is fortunate indeed that he receives scam calls from marketing companies just once a week. I get up to 15 a day wanting me to answer questions so they can sell the imformation on to scamers or trying to tell me there’s something wrong with my internet and selling fake home appliance insurance. All the utilities, gas, electric and water companies together with phone companies Banks and Councils all illegally sell blocks of phone numbers and details on to scammers. That’s how they all know your name and address. Oddly enough I often play the dementia ridden old man who is ripe for taking to the cleaners, play along with the scam. Give them false Bank account details and keep them on the end for as long as I can until the penny drops that I have been wasting their time and stringing them along. At that point they either hang up or launch into a foul mouthed tirade. At which point I mockingly laugh down the phone at them which has the effect of infuriating them even more. These calls originate from Parkistan and India although some come from Nigeria. I don’t know for the life of me how people can so dumb and fall for these very opbvious scams

Richard — I am surprised that you get up to fifteen scam calls every day and cannot find a way of stopping them. I would suggest you report this to Ofcom because it is an extreme and intolerable abuse of the telephone system.

You write that “All the utilities, gas, electric and water companies together with phone companies Banks and Councils all illegally sell blocks of phone numbers and details on to scammers“. So far as I can recall, that allegation has never been made before in the various Which? Conversations that we have had about telephone scams. I would be extremely surprised if that were the case, especially with local authorities, banks and the main [surviving] utility companies, so I should be interested if you had some evidence to support that statement. The misuse of data cannot be ruled out in all organisations but what you are suggesting would amount to be an officially authorised major breach of the General Data Protection Regulation and needs to be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office. I therefore cannot believe it is an actual fact but might well be a common supposition.

“scam calls every day and cannot find a way of stopping them. I would suggest you report this to Ofcom” A lot of these calls are from thieves abroad (VoIP); there is no way of stopping them, Ofcom can do nothing. I waste a lot of their time, but even then I am presumably still on lists being sold, and keep getting calls (they know my name and address, not random calls).

Richard reported that he was getting up to fifteen calls every day. Lots of people have stated that they might get a few calls over a short period, or two or three calls a week, but Richard’s experience is the worst case of nuisance calling I have ever heard of and there must be something that the authorities can do in such a situation, even possibly something relatively simple like an intercept and call trace function. Nobody should have to put up with that level of disruption to their life. I hope Richard has reported this to Ofcom because it deserves exceptional action.

Louise says:
30 May 2022

I’ve been using the call blocker for Android made by http://www.unknownphone.com and haven’t received almost any unwanted call since I installed it.

Tilly says:
6 June 2022

I had a scam text message the message had an email attached, but at the top of the text it had a mobile number .
It said ‘’ earn £950 per week no experience necessary, work from home hour’s to suit.
Just type yes then click on the email.’’
I accidentally sent 7726 to the scammers instead of forwarding the message to my network provider.
Fortunately it was a pay as you go number, I had a credit on the the not a large amount but the scammers took the lot.
I’ve always been so careful to forward any scam text’s to my provider.
I had to reset everything.
Please if you forward any thing from scammers make sure before forwarding.

We all individually spent much time identifying scam calls, so why don’t the national and international landline and mobile phone companies band together to actively search out and find these companies and put the businesses out of action and destroy their equipment?

Is it perhaps scam calls generated all still make a profit for these companies and they do not wish to lose this revenue stream?