/ Scams

How the National Trading Standards Scams Team is fighting fraud

Scams continue to evolve throughout the pandemic. Our guest, Adam Carter of the National Trading Standards scams team, explains how you can protect yourself.

This is a guest post by the National Trading Standards Scams Team. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

The National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team raises awareness of mass marketing fraud through the Friends Against Scams initiative.

People can complete the online training at www.FriendsAgainstScams.org.uk, or attend a face-to-face meeting (currently on hold) organised by one of more than 2,000 SCAMchampion volunteers up and down the country.

When the country went into the first lockdown last March, not only were the team uprooted and moved to remote working like so many other teams, but new coronavirus related scams were hitting the UK with serious ferocity. 

Scam alert: fake NHS COVID-19 vaccine text

COVID-19 texts and emails

Some consumers started receiving text messages and emails claiming to be from official (and some non-official) agencies, all with an aim of causing more worry and anxiety in an already worrying and anxious time. These messages included:

⚠ Being fined for breach of lockdown legislation

⚠ Selling fake testing kits or cleaning products claiming to eliminate coronavirus

⚠ Asking for charitable donations to help those in need

⚠ Offering shopping or medication collection services

⚠ Being offered ‘coronavirus tax rebates’

⚠ Some even offering vaccines or cures despite there being no vaccine or cure at the time

Consumers’ telephones were also starting to ring off the hook with a variety of coronavirus and non-coronavirus related scams, all designed to get people to reveal important personal and financial information for several false reasons, such as:

⚠ Payment requests from TV subscription services like Amazon Prime or Netflix

⚠ Being sold poor quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at inflated prices, most of which never turned up

⚠ Courier fraud – where criminals would make contact claiming to be from the police or a bank, telling the consumer that their bank account had been compromised and asking to move their money into a ‘safe’ account. A ‘courier’ would then pick up their bank card and tell them they just needed to provide the PIN number

⚠ All sorts of fraudulent insurance, service plans or warranty extensions for white and electrical goods or plumbing and drainage insurance

If you receive any suspicious contact you can report them to Action Fraud online, or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Suspicious text messages can be forwarded to 7726 (spells SPAM in the old style telephone keypad), while scam emails can be forwarded to report@phishing.gov.uk

Our awareness course

Friends Against Scams has a short (15-20min) scams awareness course that can help you protect yourself and loved ones from scams.

Anyone completing this session becomes a Friend and, so far, more than 650,000 people have completed this training, helping to take a stand against scams.

You can complete the training here.

The site also has resources available for you to share with loved ones to help them spot and report scams. It’s estimated that scams cost the UK economy between £5-10 billion each year and up to 95% of these crimes go unreported.

We believe that consumer education is key to helping protect our communities.

This was a guest post by the National Trading Standards Scams Team. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Have you been targeted by scams since the pandemic began? Got a question for Adam and the NTS Scams Team? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

whats the best hard drive i could use to copy dvds to so i can watch it on my tv?

Do you mean a so-called PVR like the Panasonic DMR-PWT550EB Blu-ray/DVD Player with HDD Recorder & Freeview Play?

John, copying commercial DVD’s is tricky because they are copy protected.

I believe it is also currently illegal under UK copyright law, even for home backup purposes (see:-https://www.macxdvd.com/mac-dvd-video-converter-how-to/is-it-legal-or-illegal-to-rip-dvds.htm ).

Both my TV and my DVD player have USB sockets that allow memory sticks and portable hard drives to be connected.

Films, photos and music on those media can then be played, but for films this only works if the TV or DVD player can successfully decode the media formats. I’ve found some devices do not work with all USB hard drives, presumably because their USB outputs cannot supply enough current to power such drives.

If you have access to a PC, it is reasonably easy to get hold of software that will copy or “rip” DVD’s, including some copy protected ones. For example, see:-https://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-free-dvd-ripper for some free options. I expect there are also more capable but non-free options.

Ann Pocdklington says:
12 February 2021

As DerekP says, most are copy protected. Do not infringe copyright laws – they are to protect creators’ livelihoods. I am surprised Which would publish a query about copying without a comment about infringing copyright.

Patrick Taylor says:
12 February 2021

Copyright has been extended and extended since it was first thought of. If memory serves it was the same as patents at 20 years in the UK. Courtesy of the vested interests we consumers were subjected to increasingly lengthy copyright terms. The crowning insult to consumers was the MickyMouse Act in the US were it was extended to Disney’s profit.

Example for the US ” Originally, copyrights were for 28 years but could be renewed for another 28. A new law in 1976 extended that term to 47 years. The 1998 law superseded that and created the new terms.”

“As a general rule, copyright for works published after Jan. 1, 1978, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. If a book has multiple authors, the 70 years begins at the death of the last author.”

The point is that publishers are the main beneficiaries of these extensions and these decisions are made by the like of the WTO where consumer voices are unheard. I would love to know why 56 years was considered insufficient but patents are fine at 20!

I am concerned about how the coronavirus pandemic has provided new opportunities for scammers.

Many of us are familiar with using the GOV.UK portal as a safe route to access services without risk of being caught out by a scam or accidentally using a copycat site. Rather than sending out invitations by text message with a link, perhaps a plain message asking the recipient to visit the government portal to book vaccinations.

There are now so many scams that perhaps we should be thinking of better approaches to look at new approaches that could reduce the risk.

I think local health centres make their own arrangements for a vaccination centre which would not be the same as going through a gov site. I haven’t compared the two though.

The biggest problem with these scams is they are concentrating on the elderly with either no internet or no-one to explain the consequences to them and believe me there are quite a few out there even where i live. These scammers are so convincing you act out of panic before stopping to think.

Action Fraud are useless, even the police know it. Been Conned? They don’t care.

bhunmati jethwa says:
13 February 2021

citizen advice consumer and local authority standard trading is just worst of time three [3] report
about the scams failed to investigate any cases and citizen advice consumer just pass on the books and local authority have got any resource to do any case work

Marianna says:
13 February 2021

It is definitely getting worse – I am getting 5-8 scam emails a day (I am absolutely sure somebody got hold of my email address ….) which I am reporting religiously every time.
They varies from “bitcoin” to getting a surprise from Boots or Amazon (I am sure I would! A big one!) … did not pay my TV licence or recently the couldn’t deliver my parcel – pretending to be from the Post Office or Amazon … The persistency is absolutely unbelievable … Sad world we live in now!

Recently I received a call on my landline from a scammer claiming to be Detective Constable Ryan Kent, badge number EG553, from Hammersmith police station. He claimed that two lads had been arrested and a number of cloned credit cards were found in their possession. One supposedly had my name on it and had been used to make a $1,500.00 purchase from Argos. As I have never purchased anything from Argos and with the amount of money involved I would have received an authentication code to my mobile phone from my bank, which I did not. So I was immediately suspicious. He then kept asking me how much money I had in my account. After repeatedly refusing to tell him, he hung up. I tried to complete the Action Fraud form on line, but they expected me to provide a physical description. I tried phoning them and hung up after waiting 20 minutes and my call was not answered. You cannot phone the police station direct to check if the caller was genuine and is based at Hammersmith. Action Fraud is a fraud itself and not fit for purpose. This forum is the only place I have found to alert people of this type of scam. I did report the incident to my bank. They confirmed there had been no activity on my accounts for anything like this.

I doubt that a real UK policeman would use the term “badge number”. More likely they’ll use “number” or collar number, see:-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collar_number

Andrew Pritchard says:
13 February 2021

Why cannot BT/Openreach stop scam calls from numbers that appear on my phone for many scam calls, which, if I try to contact them by ringing back, give either an open line sound or a voice saying that the number has not been recognised. Surely in these days of AI etc this should not be impossible?

I guess UK systems cannot currently do that. But even if they could, scammers could still make calls by spoofing existing valid numbers.

This is all good advice, but even better would be information on how to block/stop these and all the nuisance phone calls.

That is readily possible, eg using a Call Guardian handset.

Patrick Taylor says:
14 February 2021

Panasonic has a phone that asks the caller to press another digit before it puts the call through : ) Autodiallers cannot manage that. ! The French Consumer charity Que Choisir says the Panasonic KX-TGH720 stopped nearly all cold calls almost overnight.

On sale in the US and not much use here is this
“Panasonic Call Blocker for Landline Phones Review. Well, the first thing everyone wants to know on a call blocker is how many calls can it actually block? This Panasonic call blocker blocks up to 16,000 numbers! When you buy this robocall blocker, you only get 2000 slots because 14,000 telemarketer numbers are already pre-installed.” !!!

Kiran says:
13 February 2021

Has Which? looked into Action Fraud and other organisations that scams are reported to (as mentioned in the article above)? Many people say they are not fir for purpose. Do the reported scams get investigated? What are the statistics from these organisations. An indepth Which? magazine article on this is what I would request.

I have been the victim of a energy supply scam which I am still fighting 1 year later. Promised a saving of up to £300 a year I set up a direct debit during a cold call then the company recommended to me wanted to charge £30 pounds a month more. So far I am £100 pounds out of pocket and I will be a couple of hundred more when I finally settle my bill.The Citizens Advice told me not to ring the police but contact the energy ombudsman who after 8 months or so has left me to fight it out on my own.

Jen Burt says:
14 February 2021

I had a phone call saying my router was compromised and my supplier said I needed a new one. As my supplier wasn’t named and the dreaded words “ press one “ were said I immediately put the phone down. However , I have been trying to check with my supplier and so far haven’t been able to get an answer from them either way.

Jen – If your router is working normally I would ignore the message.

Even if your internet service provider [ISP] became aware of your router being ‘compromised’ they wouldn’t telephone you; they might not even have your telephone number.

There is a faint possibility that your telecom service provider [TSP – e.g. BT, Virgin Media] could become aware of a technical problem on the line but not a misuse of the router; they don’t routinely monitor router functionality for such events, and, again, even if they did identify a problem, they would not call you with an anonymous pre-recorded message but either fix the fault at source or contact the account holder with relevant identification and security checks – but in practice that never happens because there is no need; routers are reliable and long-lasting and easily replaced by the user directly with their TSP [or independently] if they wish to upgrade the service.

I believe you can normally do diagnostic checks on your router yourself via your computer or other device.

These scams are designed to worry people and panic them into a process for capturing personal data. They prey on people’s supposed ignorance about technology and fear of being disconnected. They set up a false sense of urgency: what if you had been away when the call came through? Always stop and count to ten before taking any action and never ‘press one’.

Jen, As John said, that call will have been a scam.

As your ISP will have your home address, if they did want you to have a new router, they would just send you one.

Fair enough, but why would an ISP not know your phone number when they provide the service? My ISP has phoned me a couple of times.

Are we getting confused between the ISP – which supplies the internet services – and the TSP [telecom service provider] which supplies the broadband service and router?

If my ISP has a telephone number it will be a very old one from around 1994 and I have moved several times since then and don’t think I have updated my account information; the usual means of contact is via e-mail or an on-screen message when logging-in, but I cannot recall ever being contacted by the ISP about an operational fault or other technical issue on the line or router.

I suggest that you let your ISP have your phone number, John. If there is a problem they might not be able to contact you by email.

Wavechange – I think they have my mobile number because they have that for verification and authentication purposes in the event of a system problem requiring a re-set and would send a text message. It has never happened, though, in over 25 years.

We are getting a bit off-topic as so often happens, but this reminds me that years ago I was contacted by my ISP because my router had been recalled because of a security issue.

John, I think for many of us ISP and TSP are the same company. But even when my phone line came from BT and my Internet Service came from another provider, it was the latter that supplied modems and routers.

Yes, that’s a good point, Derek. I had overlooked that many people have it all bundled together. My ISP has never had anything to do with telecom services and although they frequently advertise devices [except mobile phones], peripherals and accessories they don’t offer routers.

Wavechange, we go off-topic because the main thread has exhausted itself and we need something new to chew on.

In my view, prolonging these “Do you know about this latest scam?” Conversations rarely adds to Which?’s existing knowledge. They don’t summarise them, respond to questions on them, say what they are going to do with the information given, or engage in any way with the contributors. They might as well frame them in the form of a tabular poll with three or four columns and multiple rows for entries. It’s only when someone like you submits some interesting facts or technical details that any learning is possible at all.

This Conversation invites us to make comments about scams during the pandemic. Not having any useful examples I suggested that more use could be made of the GOV.UK portal to help tackle the problem.

There must be ten or more Conversations running at the moment about different scams. People don’t necessarily confine their comments to the particular type of scam so comments are mixed up across the Conversations. Nearly all the comments are stand-alone contributions and are not producing any dialogue with Which? or any conversation with other community members.

It is useful to have details of new scams as they arise although I get that quicker from the County Council trading standards service which also gives details of rogue traders including the localities where they are operating. It’s a free e-mail bulletin which anyone can sign up to from the Norfolk CC website. Other authorities might do the same in their areas.

Given that there are other sources of information about new scams I feel that Which? could more usefully keep a running list of scams in one place with brief details of each but not invite comments on them which tend to be repetitive and add little value to the topic.

The key with all these calls is not to give any personal information in response to an unexpected phone call, surely. It doesn’t matter what the potential scam type might be, if you are unsure of the origin just contact your provider, of whatever service, on their known legitimate contact method.

Surely that is the simple message that should be given out? Ignore that at your peril.

I regard Action Fraud as part of the problem. They appear to be there simply to soak up complaints from the public and then dump them all in the bin on the way to the next bar. That Which? continue to promote them adds to the problem…