How To Spot Phone Fraud

Phone fraud is when a fraudster calls or messages you, pretending to be someone you know or from an organisation you trust such as your bank or the police. They then convince you to hand over personal details, make a payment, give them access to your computer or follow a link to a dodgy website.

Examples of phone fraud to be aware of

Computer or phone company

Who’s calling?

Somebody claiming to be from your computer, internet or phone provider.

What’s the story?

There’s a problem with your device, internet service or account, but they’ve spotted it and can help you.

How do they defraud you?

They tell you to download a program that will fix the problem, but in fact that gives the criminal access to your computer. Now they can access everything you store on there, from photos and files to passwords and bank details.

Bank or tax office

Who’s calling?

Somebody claiming to be from your bank or the tax office (HM Revenue and Customs, or HMRC ).

What’s the story?

There’s a problem with your bank account, or you’ve committed a tax offence and could be arrested.

How do they defraud you?

They tell you the problem can be solved if you transfer money into a ‘secure account’ that’s been opened in your name, or if you pay a fine to avoid arrest. In fact, the account you send money to belongs to the criminal.

The police

Who’s calling?

Somebody claiming to be from the police.

What’s the story?

Criminals have cloned your bank cards and they need your help with the investigation.

How do they defraud you?

They tell you to hand over your bank cards, PIN or cash to an ‘undercover officer’ or courier as evidence for the investigation. A variation of this might be asking you to make a high value purchase and hand that item to a courier. In fact, you’ve just handed your data, money or items to the fraudster.

How fraudsters make their calls so convincing

‘Number spoofing’

The fraudster calls your landline or mobile from a phone number that looks genuine. This is called ‘spoofing’. They change the number they’re calling from so it appears on your caller ID as one you think you know and trust.

They know a bit about you

They might know a few personal details about you, so you believe they are who they say they are.

An emotive story

They have a convincing story for why they’re calling, often with a sense of urgency, that means you need to hand over money, personal details or control of your computer.

Phone fraud checklist: what to look for

Phone fraud – sometimes called ‘voice phishing’ or ‘vishing’ scams – can be hard to spot. But there are signs that should make you suspicious. These include:

  • the caller asking you to share personal or financial information
  • the caller asking you to share a one-time passcode or PIN
  • the caller asking you to give them remote access to your computer
  • the caller trying to pressure you into making a payment or moving money
  • the caller trying to rush or panic you if you ask questions or want proof of identity

How to protect yourself from phone fraud

Remember that genuine service providers, banks and the police will NEVER call asking you to transfer money, share personal financial details or hand over remote control of your computer.

If you are in any way suspicious, or feel pressured into anything, hang up and take time to check if the call is genuine.

Call back on a number you know to be genuine, for example as shown on your utility bills or the back of your card. You can also call 159 to get through to your bank, or 101 for the police.

If you’ve seen something that doesn’t feel right, STOP!

  • hang up
  • check if it’s genuine: contact the organisation directly using contact details you know are correct, such as those on a utility bill, official website, the back of your card or by calling 159 for your bank
  • don’t trust the Caller ID display on your phone – it’s not proof of ID
  • report it by sending a text to 7726 with the word ‘Call’ followed by the scam caller’s number

What to do if you’ve already responded to the caller

Don’t panic! What you do next depends on whether you’ve shared information or made a payment. Take a look at our advice on what to do if you’ve been a victim of fraud.

Useful resources

Do you know your TikTok from your Snapchat? Whether you’re a teacher, social worker or...