By Terry Willey, Terence Willey & Co

There has been a noticeable increase in fraud and scams in recent years, particularly since we were all confined to home during the pandemic. Fraudsters have seen this as an ideal opportunity to catch people out with what often appears on the face of it to be a legitimate phone call.

In addition to this, unsolicited emails have also reached an unacceptable level. Businesses have had to undertake additional safeguarding measures including installing sophisticated firewall protection to ensure that no aspect of business operation is compromised.

Much of the suspicious activity is generated outside of the United Kingdom which makes it very difficult to trace the source and regulate. British Telecom introduced a facility to block unwanted and international phone call numbers, but in some cases this has proved ineffective as international numbers are withheld. 

Make no mistake about it, these fraudsters go to great lengths to ensure that such calls are not blocked. Many such calls cannot be simply cut off which effectively means it should be left to ring unanswered, as any attempt to pick up the phone and place it straight down is overridden.

One extraordinary incident happened concerning British Telecom, where physical line works were undertaken for an individual on a private telephone line and internet facility. A few days later the individual received a telephone call, purportedly from BT, checking that the works undertaken were to his satisfaction. A request was made to check the computer connection by remote access. 

The individual was very cautious and asked for confirmation of his BT account number, repair job number and his personal details to be confirmed before he would allow such access to take place. This was all supplied satisfactorily and therefore the access on his computer was permitted. Once this consent had been given, the call was cut off and within minutes the individual’s full details, banking and other personal information were cloned from his computer. Fortunately the individual rechecked his computer to note that activity was taking place and telephoned his Bank Fraud Department to investigate. The Police Fraud Division were notified and there was sufficient time in these circumstances for all his accounts to be blocked from access.  Nevertheless, it took several weeks for the reinstatement of all necessary accounts and the allocation of new numbers and passwords, etc.

It was established by police over the days that followed, that information from the individual’s account had been sold off to criminals abroad with little or no chance of trace. There is a clear lesson to be learnt from this terrible experience in so far as we should never give information to anyone over the telephone or in email or allow access remotely.

I believe the only way to curtail unsolicited phone calls and emails within the UK would be to require any company selling anything in the UK through this medium to be subject to strict licence and regulation. It will surely be only a matter of time, and when the Government can afford such expenditure, that the risk will be minimised as far as the UK is concerned.

In the meantime we must all remain vigilant and guarded as to providing anyone with any information over the telephone or by email.