UK remains prime target for telephone scammers, report shows
The UK remains one of the prime targets for telephone scammers seeking to make money out of tricking people into calling back bogus numbers and incurring high charges, according to an international telecoms carrier.
The scale of global telecoms fraud is unknown but 170m fraudulent calls were blocked across the world in 2018 to hundreds of destinations, a report by BICS, a subsidiary of Proximus, the Belgian telecoms company showed. The UK accounted for 25m, or 15 per cent, of those scam calls which is by far the highest number for a country in the G20 group of large economies.
The level of inbound telephone fraud to the UK was similar to that of Tunisia, Somalia and Cuba, the study based on information provided by 900 telecoms companies found. The industry estimates that globally telecoms fraud costs it $17bn a year.
The crime in the UK relates largely to the regulation and ownership of premium rate numbers in the 070 range, according to BICS, a wholesale business that provides international links between branded telecoms companies. The numbers are used to divert one number to another to maintain a user’s privacy, for instance when selling a car online, but the owner of the number can also set the price people have to pay to make the call.
This has been abused by scammers who entice users to unwittingly return a “missed call” to an 070 number that looks to be from a normal mobile number in the UK, which start with the 07 prefix. Consumers who fall for the scam have regularly incurred huge costs after returning the dubious call.
Katia Gonzalez, head of fraud prevention at BICS, said: “The UK is a long-suffering target of telecoms fraud, both in terms of its phone numbers being used to collect fraudulent traffic and its subscribers being targeted.”
Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, reacted to the growing problem of 070 fraud last year after revealing that 2.6m people had called an 070 number between April 2017 and March 2018 with many vulnerable users among the victims. It has since introduced a cap of 0.5p a minute on the charge that it costs to call an 070 number, a drastic reduction from the £1.50 a minute that was allowed previously.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We identified concerns about scammers using 070 numbers to defraud people. So we’ve stepped in to help protect callers, reducing the amount phone companies can charge for connecting these calls and, with it, the incentive to use them fraudulently.”
Ms Gonzalez was confident that the move could finally reduce the UK’s appeal to telecoms scammers.
“We anticipate Ofcom’s price cap will result in a reduction of fraud traffic terminated in the UK. We will be carefully monitoring fraudulent traffic levels following the end of the implementation period in October, to see if the regulator’s actions have had the desired effect,” she said.