Protect yourself from vishing scams

By Michael Lloyd

Phone fraud, called vishing, is becoming more popular as criminals target the elderly and others who put trust in phone callers. The scam has caused thousands of pounds' worth of losses.

And since the scam involves you, the victim, telling the caller personal account information that banks strictly advise against giving out, your bank often won't reimburse you if you fall victim to vishing. Learn the signs of a vishing scam and how to tell a real bank caller from a thief.

Vishing fraud involves scammers calling victims and pretending to be a representative from a victim's bank, some other financial company or even the police. The fraudsters glean personal account details from the unsuspecting victims. vishing-scam

Vishing fraudsters tend to target the elderly, assuming they will be easier to confuse and less familiar with how telephone banking works. At the beginning of December 2014, UK banks and building societies launched a campaign to raise awareness of vishing after it was revealed that telephone fraud losses tripled to nearly £24 billion over the previous 12 months.

In November 2014, BBC News reported that an 83-year-old Scottish man was conned out of more than £50,000 by vishing fraudsters. Days afterwards, it emerged that two Perthshire residents were cheated out of £25,000 each on the same day. According to Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK), some vishing victims have lost in excess of £100,000. 

"The latest data available suggests that phone scams led to losses across the UK of £23.9 million this year, up threefold from the year before, as organised criminals devote more of their time and resources to perpetrating these frauds," says Craig Jones, head of communications for the UK Cards Association and FFA UK.

Despite such high losses, many Brits are unfamiliar with vishing. According December 2014 FFA UK research, 41% of consumers are unaware of vishing scams.

How the scam works
Vishing fraud can happen several ways. In some instances, vishing fraudsters actually send couriers to pick up victims' cards once they have the information they need to start spending. Some scammers have even convinced people to withdraw their savings from their bank and hand it over.

Sometimes, vishing fraudsters will call a victim's landline and tell them to call the number on the back of their bank card, claiming that their account has in some way been compromised. Then, the victim hangs up to call their credit card issuer, but the fraudster does not disconnect his end of the call, so the call is not completely terminated. When the victim dials their credit card number, the thief can pick up the call and pretend to be the bank, then gather all kinds of valuable information from the victim.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom is looking into changing this so that all calls are terminated as soon as one side of a conversation hangs up, but as things stand, fraudsters can keep lines open when you put the phone down. 

How to avoid vishing
If you are a vishing victim, it is highly unlikely that your bank will reimburse your losses, as banks and card issuers are adamant about not divulging your account details to a third party and state that call centre staff will never ask for this information. As such, it's important to know how to avoid getting stung.

According to the FFA UK research, 25% of the public make no effort to properly establish the identity of people who call them about their financial affairs, making it easy to see why organised criminals are moving into vishing.

"Once you receive a cold call and they request that you call back, leave it at least five minutes and ensure that you call back using the number that would have been provided on any official documentation you will have received, says Deputy Head of Action Fraud Stephen Proffitt. "Also, be wary that fraudsters are keeping the line open and playing recordings of dial tones to fool victims into thinking that they are dialling from a live line."

To be doubly sure, call back on another phone. Many UK residents are unaware this type of fraud even takes place, much less how to prevent it.

"Members of the public need to be aware of these scams and fully understand what they should do on the phone if they receive a suspicious call out of the blue," Jones says. "That is why the UK banks, with the support of the police, have issued a Joint Declaration which clearly states those requests you should never consent to when on the phone."

The Declaration says to never disclose PINs over the phone, hand over your cards or cheques to a courier, or agree to transfer money from your own account to another, no matter what the reason. Your bank or card issuer will never ask you to divulge these details or perform these actions.

Anybody who suspects they may have been the victim of a vishing scam should call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use its online reporting tool.

See related: Old-style scams increasingly used by fraudsters, Bank rules may allow rejected claims of account fraud

Published: 22 December 2014