/ Technology

We need action to cut off fake phone numbers

We know you hate nuisance calls. But there’s another twist in this modern day menace – ‘spoofed calls’. Ofcom estimates as many as two billion nuisance calls are made each year using fake numbers…

You know what it’s like; you’re sat by your phone waiting for an important call, when it suddenly rings. You look down and see it’s withheld number. You answer just in case. And then the automated voice kicks in telling you you’ve been in an accident.

In recent weeks I’ve been touring the country talking to the public about their experiences of nuisance calls and meeting politicians to discuss how we can tackle the problem. The one thing I heard time and again was, ‘so many of them don’t show a number, so I’ve just stopped answering them’.

Watch out for number spoofing

But now there’s another trick that companies are using to get you to answer you phone – they’re ‘spoofing’ numbers. Call centres are using software to fool your phone’s caller ID system to hide their real identity. This means they can make it look like they’re calling from another number, including from a local area code.

This isn’t always done for devious reasons – some companies display a freephone number so you can call them back without being charged. However, the number of nuisance calls using spoofing technology is rising, with Ofcom estimating that as many as two billion nuisance calls are made using fake numbers each and every year. And the real kicker is that this allows nuisance calling companies to bypass the call blocking device you might have bought.

Government must keep its promises

While it’s illegal for companies to spoof numbers, with fines of up to £2m, it’s so far been difficult for the regulator to prosecute anyone.

That’s why we want the Government to keep its promises on making firms give valid numbers when making outbound marketing calls. Not only will this help you decide whether to answer the phone, it will make it easier to report unwanted calls.

Have you ever had a phone call from a local area code only for it to be a nuisance caller at the end of the line?


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This comment was removed at the request of the user

I agree that is one possible way of dealing with the diversion of calls to reassigned numbers. It could lessen the impact of robo-calls, but it doesn’t deal with the main issue in the UK of nuisance calls set up by an agent who then tries to sell something, procure personal data, or take-over the computer.

I see Bill’s proposal as a more strategic approach because it turns the call back if the caller doesn’t own the line number being presented and makes the perpetrator pay for it [that’s if I have understood his proposal correctly].

It’s a remarkably ineffectual series of proposals. ” PROPOS(ed) MEASURES TO REDUCE UNWANTED ROBOCALLS” doesn’t sound like the sort of concrete measure we need. But then, what more could we expect from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai who deftly presided over the demise of net neutrality regulations in the US.

While a ‘ reassigned number database.’ might have some effect it seems clear that the US are as stymied as we appear to be in the face of determined spammers.

So it seems John is right: stopping all nuisance calls – at least prior to the person or machine making the call – is impossible.

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I have seen nothing to convince me that every potential spam call can be intercepted prior to the ‘phone ringing in the house of the intended target. Of course there are ways of limiting the effect but the one truism the bad guys live by is that crime will always find a way (apologies to James Blish).

Why don’t BT use the technology that is available to block spoofed numbers? Apparently they can be identified as not being a real number and can therefor be blocked.
When will BT get up to date on this?

One reason could be that BT would rather sell you a call blocking phone or a call blocking service instead of providing equivalent functions for free.

But there are also some cases where spoofed numbers should be allowed. For example, call centre staff working from home would want any outgoing calls to show their company’s number as opposed to their personal phone.

This is perfectly OK as BT to the provider could offer a licence to display a different number legitimately. Then all non legitimate spoofed numbers could be blocked. It is technically possible now. I do not understand why BT won’t implement it. It can only be for commercial reasons.

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This conversation is about nuisance calls, not the superfast broadband roll-out.

Yeah that.

My 84 year old mum is targeted regularly by spoofed numbers, from “there’s a virus on your computer” to “it Amazon and you owe us money”. The line provider has a moral obligation to do more here. They unleashed the ability to make spoof calls and its their network that’s being exploited by criminal gangs. They should provide an option to block all spoofed calls!!

On the internet we have http sites and https sites. Https sites are regulated and generally trustworthy. Why can’t we do the same with phone numbers?

No, they’re not, James; that’s not how the system works. The principal motivations for HTTPS are authentication of the accessed website and protection of the privacy and integrity of the exchanged data while in transit. It protects against man-in-the-middle attacks.

But it has a number of flaws, so many in fact, that Browser makers are attempting to introduce a better system. We know, for example, that many connections between you and an HTTPS site are intercepted. I could go into how you tell this, but suffice to know that it’s not a secure system.

It also relies heavily on signed certificates, which are often allowed to lapse.

So make bonafide users of spoofed numbers use certificates. No valid certificate: no ability to spoof on the BT network.

James, until such time as that technology get built-in to “oven-ready” telephone networks, a lot of householders are opting to invest in their own call blocking technology.

Earlier this week, I was surprised to see that this is even sold by my local B&Q (see:-https://www.diy.com/departments/cpr-grey-corded-nuisance-call-blocker/578065_BQ.prd ). More sophisticated / complicated products are also available (e.g.:-https://www.cprcallblocker.com/pages/instruction-manuals and:-https://btplc.com/inclusion/ProductsAndServices/Choosetherightphone/BT8600AdvancedCallBlocker/index.htm ).

Yesterday, I had to cold call someone who has invested in such kit. Thankfully my call was duly screened but not blocked, so they did eventually call me back.

Chris Howard says:
3 March 2021

Just checked into this site. Although looking at the dates of the messages, the last being over a year old, still nothing has been done to eradicate this problem.

All the bloody time, Amazon calling to reclaim $1700 from a local UK town number I live in. I think its a dumb scam but some people must fall for it.

Well it certainly won’t be Amazon who are calling. The spoofed Amazon scam has been running for years because a high percentage of the population use Amazon. If one person a day bites and reveals their bank details the scam is successful.