/ Scams

Scam alert: National Insurance number ‘compromised’ cold call

If you’ve received a pre-recorded message or phone call claiming your National Insurance number has been compromised, you can safely ignore it. It’s a scam.

18/05/21: Phishing emails

Fraudsters appear to be continuing to use the hook of National Insurance numbers as a means to exploit personal information from victims – the scam appears to have now moved to phishing emails:

 

Thank you to an eagle-eyed scam alert subscriber for making us aware of this email, which was not sent by GOV.UK.

Remember, you can visit Gov.uk which offers contact numbers and web chat support if you have concerns regarding your National Insurance number.

Guide: how to spot an email scam

21/04/21: Cold calls

We’ve been made aware that an official sounding voice usually claiming to be from the National Crime Agency or ‘National Office for Serious Crimes’ has been cold calling unsuspecting members of the public, asking them to call back urgently.

Fraudsters will then try to manipulate you into handing over personal information using a web of lies and threats. 

We’ve heard from dozens of people targeted by this scam over the past few months. Action Fraud data shows it is the most reported phone scam of this year so far, having received more than 1,000 reports.

One victim told us that when he returned the call he was falsely told that someone had been using his National insurance number (NINo) to claim Universal Credit.

The scammer told him that if he didn’t hand over his personal details so they could make a ‘correction’ he would be liable to repay thousands of pounds in fraudulently claimed benefits and could be sent to prison. At this point he realised something wasn’t right and put the phone down, but the scammers continued to try and get in touch with him for more than a week.

Other victims have told us similar stories, all in which the scammers told them they had to hand over their personal information to be issued with a new NINo number.

Don’t be pressured for your details

In reality, there’s very little damage anyone could do with just your National Insurance number, even if someone had access to it.

But your other personal details, such as your name, date of birth, address and bank details are much more valuable to criminals. They could use this information to target you with more personalised scams, or try to gain access to your accounts.

No government organisation would ever pressure you to hand over sensitive information, and if you’re uncomfortable or unsure, just hang up the call.

The National Crime Agency is unlikely to call consumers directly about their National Insurance numbers. Which? has contacted it about this cold call and will publish any response here.

If you have concerns about your National Insurance number you can visit Gov.uk which offers contact numbers and web chat support.

How to protect yourself

If you’ve been tricked by this scam, don’t worry. There are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Contact your bank if you’re worried that you’ve given away your bank account or payment details. 

You can also sign up to Cifas. It’s a not-for-profit fraud prevention service service that monitors the use of your details to apply for bank accounts, credit cards or loans. 

As always, our guides for how to report scams and what you can do if you’ve lost money to a scam are available here.


Comments

We have had phone calls from a Car Parking Master – somewhere in France – did not ring back – but suspect scam – never driven to France

Steve says:
20 May 2021

Lady yesterday rang to thank me for the help our business gave to local schools last September. Blessed with an excellent memory i said i couldn’t remember but she was welcome, always happy to help a good cause. My certificate of thanks and the headmistress of the local school , both of which she
named was sending me a letter of thanks. So now there’s just a payment of £189.5o to pay. Well, being a good Yorkshireman you can probably guess the next few words. Have these people no shame?

Bob says:
20 May 2021

I get scams daily on my scam email not family and friends one.
Hopefully it helps to keep them off others who are gullable and send off money hoping to benefit from millions usual $ US. I give out complete fake name and address names are rude so won’t put examples. I have one going that tells me If I don’t CONFIRM to sending $ 5,000,00 he will ťþget me arrested, saying they have your address,, that is a police station in another country I gave address of airport saying I will meet you there email when you arrive. He did, I then called him out telling him the airport doesn’t exist. Now he’s threatened me with army. How I love keeping them from gullible.

There is currently a very good scam McAfee email doing the rounds. It is to do with renewal of your subscription and to let you know that they have deducted £84.99 auto renewal following the free first year. The things that give it away are the fact that it is not personalised, the fact that they state the card debited is Visa card 4*** **** **** (all Visa cards begin with a 4) and the fact that the customer service number is spurious. Presumably they want you to throw your hands up in horror and ring the customer number to cancel the subscription.

Good flag Tim! Would you be able to share the email with us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk?

John Gauld says:
20 May 2021

Another less common scam.

Apparently some lawyers in Hong Kong think that I may be able to claim. some $19,800,000 being the unclaimed estate of someone who shares my surname.

This is not a new scam . I have received several similar offers over the years but being an honest sort of chap, I have foregone the opportunities offered!

This is why I always answer a number I don’t recognise with simply a fairly flat ‘Hello’ and never my name. If it’s a recording I repeat ‘Hello’. If necessary again ‘Hello’ As often as not it then hangs up. If it’s a person they will say ‘am I speaking to Mrs …….?’ I reply ‘Why do you want to speak to Mrs …..?’ They usually repeat their question, I repeat mine., they repeat a variation of their question usually getting a little tetchy, I reply ‘you rang this number I want to know why you want to speak to Mrs ……’ After a few minutes there are often some rude words in a foreign tongue and they hang up. I don’t hang up immediately – hopefully I’ll keep their line unavailable for a few minutes……

Brian Hughes says:
20 May 2021

Just had phone call from NatWest fraud on 08000466138 saying I had fraudulent activity on account…. never phoned them back but phoned NatWest number direct off the back of my card. Spoke to someone who put in a call to the fraud team ( the real ones) they said all was ok with account and that it was a scam …. so phone the number on back of the card … please it only takes a few minutes and save your money from these scammers

I can’t tell the ins and outs of the call, but would like to add don’t ring back on the same phone just in case there still on the line.

Landlines now clear after two seconds of either party terminating – see comments below.

In this situation, there is merit in waiting a minute or two to gather your thoughts and recollect what has actually been said to a scammer and whether there is any risk of fraudulent activity. If any identity details have been given then a call to the bank is vital and should be made as soon as possible but where there is no risk, apart from the need for reassurance, there is not much point in calling the purported source of the scam attempt as it might impede other essential investigations.

Just had the National Insurance scam on my mobile phone, very strange as I don’t give this mobile number out, however signed up to NHS app for covid passport a few days ago and had to give the mobile number !!!!!!

My wife’s mobile number is only two different from mine. We quite often get the same scam text messages at the same time which suggests that they just use an arbitrary block of numbers and fire off texts to each and every one. This may be the case with you Paul and the NHS app is purely coincidental.

Straight away, in the email, Gov.uk wouldn’t use ‘GOV UK – Alerts’.
You also wouldn’t notify bad news by stating: ‘We would like to inform you…’
Generally, in the UK, a National Insurance Number is abbreviated to NINO, not NIN.
‘Protection act’ also sounds as if the sender is trying too hard to sound official.

To be honest, most scam emails are appallingly bad, so they’re easy to spot. I had one yesterday, allegedly from ‘Homebase’, offering insurance. The images were obviously copied/pasted from a legitimate email or website & looked badly formatted. Just hovering over the ‘Apply Now’ button proved this wasn’t directed anywhere near Homebase…!

Tony B says:
21 May 2021

I was scammed I was expecting a call back from my bank that day? I immediately deleted my mobile bank app. I received a call but I was uneasy to continue and stated this, I the person told me to hang up and phone the number of my bank on the back of my card. I phoned my bank answered a few security questions and was put through to the fraud team and the same lady answered. She assisted me to put my banking app on my phone!!!!! It turned out during this long conversation to set the app security up to level three she had emptied my bank account.

When asked by a suspected scammer to call your bank using the number on the back of your card, always use another phone. If the scammer does not close the line, which they won’t, it remains open and you are still connected to the scammer! Another commenter has suggested not closing the line. as this blocks their line as long as you do not close the line.
I am astonished, though that anybody would give personal details over the phone to anybody.

My understanding is that the line is now cleared promptly when you hang up, Chris. There is obviously no harm in doing what you suggest but it would be good to know for sure whether a scammer can keep the line open.

Does anyone know for sure?

I cannot claim to know for sure, but I believe it has been reported here by Ian – who is a fount of knowledge on all things telecom – that the disconnection time has been reduced to a few seconds in order to prevent the caller from hanging on the line and effectively intercepting an outgoing call. [If it was not Telecom Ian then it might have been David [of the Fair Telecoms Campaign] but I could not quickly find a relevant comment.]

I have tested this by immediately ringing my mobile phone after a nuisance call and it has always responded immediately. That is not conclusive proof but it clears the line without wasting too much time.

Yes, I’m sure that Ian passed on this information but I do not remember being given a link.

BT cut the call clearing wait time to
2 seconds in 2015.

[Moderator: this comment was edited to fix a 404 error in the original link posted]

BT cut the call clearing wait time to 2 seconds in 2015. For some reason, the system is queuing my link posts, so the link will appear shortly. George tells me it ought not to be happening.

Lacking the link, here’s the text of the article, which first appeared in ISPreview:

“BT has once again tweaked their national telecoms network in order to significantly reduce the time that a phone call connection can be held open (active) after the called party puts their handset down (i.e. such as when you end a voice call), which could make life more difficult for fraudsters.

Related scams work because most people will be unaware that the phone line stays open for a period unless both callers replace their respective handsets (the initiating caller in particular). For example, if you call a friend but only they put their handset down then if they pick it up again later you can still hear them.

Obviously this can be exploited by fraudsters who trick consumers into contacting their bank or another service. A wise consumer, after receiving a potentially suspicious call, will typically replace the handset before getting the legitimate number for their bank and then make the call and all without realising that the fraudster is still on the line (they act as a fake support agent).

Until recently BT’s network would wait between 2 and 3 minutes before initiating call clearing to stop the above from happening, although last year this was reduced to 10 seconds “with an option to reduce it further in the near future if required” (here)”

Unfortunately fraudsters have still been using this trick and so the BBC reports that BT has now cut the time to just 2 seconds. Other providers have also made similar tweaks.

Thanks Ian. When I have tried to find this information on the the Ofcom website I have not seen it, and cannot remember anyone providing a link.

Ian Young says:
26 May 2021

Yes, the scammer can keep the line open. (About six years ago I lost £6,000 this way) Perhaps things have changed since then but if you must call your bank to check, IT USE A DIFFERENT PHONE!!

Em says:
26 May 2021

**BT SIN 351 – Issue 5.0 – August 2020**

When a call is ended by the called terminal [*you putting your phone down*], the Openreach network interface will detect an off-line condition (see section 3.1 Off-line d.c. Condition) and initiate a time-out process lasting between **two and three seconds**. After the time-out period has expired, network initiated clearing (see section 7.2 Network Initiated Clearing) is provided to the calling terminal [*the scammer’s phone connection is cleared*].

I believe the orginal purpose of the delay on digital exchanges, was to allow you to put one handset down and switch to another without disconnecting the caller. This was common practice on the old analogue exchanges, as there was no facility to clear the call from the called terminal handset.

Thanks Em. I have bookmarked this for future reference.

Geoffrey Morris. says:
21 May 2021

Received three of these NI number calls this week and another three this morning all originating from 07735968979.

Jasmin French says:
21 May 2021

In the early 2000’s a Sky account scammer kept phoning me, so I lay the receiver down on the counter top but forgot about it for 48 hours. Yes, I think it did work, as the scammers became abusive and very persistent and serves them right.

Adrian Hill says:
21 May 2021

I’m not very concerned about avoiding being scammed (good advice provide on the thread), but wonder if HMRC/ the Serious Fraud Office/OfCom/the FCA/ the police are doing anything to pursue, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of these offences. We should not just have to accept that scammers are part of online life – we should be helping the authorities to put them out of business.

Just had the NI call, a message was left on my answerphone. Like the person further down the comments, I don’t give my mobile number to many people. The number was +447768024741.

Jo Willson says:
24 May 2021

NI Scam, using a mobile number 07741 457943, wish I knew how to report.

my understanding is that you may put the phone down but the line is still connected. you can pick up the phone again and the other end plays a recording of a dial tone. As Martin Lewis suggested either use a different phone if you have one OR ring a different number eg a friend and see if you get through. then you will know for certain .

Karen – Landlines now clear after two seconds of either party terminating – see comments above.

The link provided by Ian no longer works, but here it is: https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2015/11/bt-tweaks-uk-phone-call-clearing-procedure-again-to-stop-fraudster.html

As far as I know this has never been a problem with any of the mobile networks.

Ethan Stewart Bohnen says:
25 May 2021

So I’ve been getting a new one, similar to the HRMC one that was about, I have a supposed warrant out for my arrest and owe them money, but it’s from a mobile number and need to press one…

National insurance scam A person said fraudulent activity on the welsh border had compromised my account. The call came from 07410546055.

A Sparling says:
26 May 2021

My partner has just had a call claiming to be from Northern border wales about her National insurane number, and if she didnt contact them it would be legal proceedings. the number in question is this one 02011585586 – which when searched is a London number