What are phone scams?

There are many ways that scammers con people out of their money. Phone scams are a way to get your personal and financial information. It’s important you can recognise a scam call and know how to deal with one.

What is a cold call?

A phone call from a company trying to sell you something, even though you have no previous business with them, is a cold call. Cold calls aren’t usually illegal and don’t count as a scam, although they can be frustrating and even frightening. You can register with the Telephone Preference Service to reduce the number of cold calls you receive.

Common phone scams

Bank scams

Someone might call claiming to be from your bank, they usually say there’s a problem with your card or account. It usually sounds very professional and convincing, saying either your card has been cloned or your money is at risk.

They might ask for your card and account details – including your PIN number. Sometimes they offer to have someone collect your card. They might also tell you to transfer your money to a “safe” account. This is a common scam and your bank would never ask you to do that or for your PIN number.

Computer repair scams

A scammer may call you claiming to be from the helpdesk of your computers IT firm, such as Microsoft. They usually say that your computer has a virus and will ask you to download “anti-virus software” – usually for a fee.

This is spyware, used to get your personal details. Legitimate companies don’t contact customers in this way.

Compensation calls

This is a call from a company asking about an accident you’ve supposedly had. They claim it might entitle you to compensation. Some of these could be genuine companies, but other are scammers. Don’t engage with these calls. If you’ve had an accident, call your own insurance company – the phone number will be provided in your policy.

HMRC Scams

You might get a call from someone claiming to be from the HMRC, they will say there is an issue with your tax refund or an unpaid tax bill. They might leave you a message and ask that you call them back. Don’t be fooled by this. HMRC would never contact you in this way and will never ask you for personal financial details.

Number spoofing

Scammers can mimic an official telephone number so it comes up on your caller ID display, if your phone has one. This can trick you into thinking the call is legitimate, such as from your bank. If you have any doubts, hang up and call the organisation directly. Call them from a different phone, if possible, as scammers can keep the phone line open. This means even if you hang up and call the organisation yourself, the line may still be connected to the scammer. If you can’t use a different phone, wait at least 10 minutes before you call.

Pensions and investment scams

This is a call about an “unmissable” investment opportunity, or offering you the opportunity to access your pension cash earlier.

“Anti-scam” scams

This is a call from someone claiming to be from a charity supporting scam victims, a company selling anti-scam technology, or from someone demanding money to renew your Telephone Preference Service registration (which is free).