- 41 million people targeted by suspicious calls and texts this summer
- Phone companies will be required to identify and block ‘spoofed’ calls, where feasible
- New guidance sets out how telecoms firms should make sure real numbers are not misused
Phone users will be better protected against scammers using fake phone numbers, under new rules announced today by Ofcom.
Scams are a widespread problem – three quarters of people have received a suspicious call or text in the last three months. This represents an estimated 40.8 million adults in the UK.
A common tactic used by criminals to defraud victims is to imitate – or ‘spoof’ – the phone numbers of legitimate organisations, like banks and Government departments. If a call to a mobile or landline phone appears trustworthy, people are more likely to answer it and follow the scammers’ instructions. We estimate that around 700,000 people had done this in the three months up to August 2022 alone, risking financial loss and significant emotional distress.
To help combat this problem, Ofcom is strengthening its rules and guidance to require all telephone networks involved in transmitting calls – either to mobiles or landlines – to identify and block spoofed calls, where technically feasible. This will make it harder for scammers to use spoofed numbers.
Stopping spoofed scam calls
Many phone handsets let you see the number of the person calling before you answer. New Ofcom research has found that more than nine in ten people who have this facility decide, at least some of the time, whether to answer a call or not based on the number displayed on their handset.
Our study also reveals that people are more likely to pick up a call from a UK number they don’t recognise, than an unknown international number or a withheld number. Fraudsters based abroad often exploit this, and spoof UK caller IDs knowing recipients are more likely to answer.
As well as strengthening our rules, we have also updated our guidance on how all phone companies should identify and block spoofed calls. This includes:
- making sure a number meets the UK’s 10- or 11-digit format;
- blocking calls from numbers that are on Ofcom’s Do Not Originate list; and
- identifying and blocking calls from abroad spoofing a UK caller ID.
Our guidance to telecoms firms to identify and block calls from abroad that falsely use UK numbers is based on an industry initiative, which some providers have already implemented voluntarily. One of these – TalkTalk – previously stated it had seen a 65% reduction in complaints about scam calls since it introduced this measure.
We are giving phone companies six months to make the necessary technical changes to comply with these new rules, which will come into force in May 2023.
Cracking down on the misuse of real numbers
We have also today issued new guidance to phone companies on how they can prevent scammers from accessing valid phone numbers.
Ofcom allocates telephone numbers, usually in large blocks, to telecoms firms. They can then transfer the numbers to individuals or other businesses. All phone companies are expected to take reasonable steps to stop their numbers being misused, but these efforts can vary.
Our new guide sets out clear expectations for providers to make sure they run ‘know your customer’ checks on business customers. These could involve checking the Companies House register, fraud risk databases and the Financial Conduct Authority’s Warning List to uncover information that may indicate a high risk of misuse by the customer seeking to use phone numbers.
Phone companies should also act to prevent any further potential misuse – this may include suspending the number and reporting evidence of fraudulent activity to law enforcement.
“Scam calls and texts are a major source of fraud, and they represent a clear and present danger to every phone user. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it’s easy to be caught out by a scam.
We’re constantly working with phone companies and other organisations on new ways to combat these scams. Blocking fake numbers can have a significant impact, so we’re making sure all phone companies apply this protection for their customers.”
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom's Group Director for Networks and Communications
A scam call or text is just one way fraudsters attack, but they use other channels too, including social media and search services. So it is important for Ofcom and other enforcement agencies to take a holistic, joined-up approach that takes account of the many and varied ways people can be exposed to scams. Ahead of receiving new powers as the UK’s online safety regulator, we have also been looking in detail at online users’ experiences of online fraud and will be publishing our findings next year.
Once approved by Parliament, the Online Safety Bill is set to impose new duties for online services to tackle fraud. It will hold online user-to-user services and search providers accountable for taking proportionate steps to mitigate and manage the risks that fraud poses to their users.
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