As COVID-19 lockdown measures start to ease, National Trading Standards is predicting a rise in scam telephone calls as illegitimate call centres around the world get back to work.
To coincide with the expected surge in telephone scams, National Trading Standards is offering 700 free call blockers on a first-come-first-served basis for households looking to prevent nuisance calls.
The call blocker devices make a considerable difference to households targeted by scam and nuisance phone calls. A recent survey, which examined the impact of call blockers provided by National Trading Standards three months after installation, found that 92% of users no longer received scam or nuisance calls and 95% of users no longer felt threatened or scared by these types of calls. By using a call blocker to prevent scam and nuisance calls from reaching users in the first place, 88% of respondents felt safer in their home and 83% of people no longer worried about losing money from a scam call.*
COVID-19 has provided new opportunities for telephone scammers to take advantage of members of the public. One company was found to have made over 680,000 automated scam calls over a four-week period, urging people to purchase face masks and hand sanitiser at a cost of £29.99-£49.99 by falsely claiming that the PPE was a government requirement. National Trading Standards took action to prevent further calls being made, saving consumers more than £6million.
The call blocker units supplied are the trueCall Secure call blockers – the same devices that have been used in previous National Trading Standards pilot programmes. trueCall’s latest data from its call blockers predict a sharp rise in nuisance calls as lockdown lifts. Despite telephone scams that were made during lockdown, overall the number of nuisance calls in March was 34% below expected levels and 77% below expected levels for April. However these figures are now picking up as call centres across the world re-open.**
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:
“Scam callers are relentless and often leave their intended victims feeling scared, anxious and unsafe in their own homes. Our pilot call blocker schemes have already shown the effectiveness of call blockers in protecting households from potential scams and the distress that these types of calls can cause. This technology can make a real difference to the quality of life and emotional wellbeing of people who are targeted by nuisance or scam calls.”
Members of the public who feel threatened by scam and nuisance calls can apply for a free call blocker from National Trading Standards here: www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/callblocker. To minimise the need for technicians to enter people’s homes, devices available through this pilot will need to be self-installed.
Media and Data Minister John Whittingdale said:
"We are determined to end the plague of nuisance calls ruining elderly and vulnerable people's lives. It's fantastic to see Trading Standards help block unwanted calls as lockdown lifts.
"By providing 700 call blockers free of charge we can continue to drive down nuisance calls and reduce the emotional distress they cause."
In a recent study about the effectiveness of call blockers, carried out in partnership with the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University, consumers who have received a call blocker reported a significant increase*** in their well-being after the blocker had been installed and stopped the scam and nuisance calls. One recipient said the call blocker has had an “enormous effect…prior to the call blocker I was getting calls on a regular basis. I lost my husband and this had really helped me feel safer.” Another added: “It's brilliant as my husband doesn't answer scam calls anymore and he used to reply to scammers and we lost money to scams. It has all stopped now.”
Professor Keith Brown, Director, National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice at Bournemouth University, said:
“We know that criminals are very skilled and clever in the way they use persuasive language in order to win over the confidence of their victims. It can be very difficult at times to know which calls are scams and which are from genuine people so call blockers play a vital role in protecting the most vulnerable in our society. I strongly recommend them.”
Steve Smith, MD of trueCall said:
"As lockdown eases we must all stay vigilant and protect our vulnerable relatives and friends from scams. We’re proud to play our own role in helping protect households from criminals with our call blockers that stop unwelcome callers and ask unrecognised callers to identify themselves before calls are put through."
Members of the public are also being encouraged to protect themselves, friends and neighbours against scams by joining Friends Against Scams. The initiative provides free online training to empower people to take a stand against scams. To date, nearly 500,000 people have signed up to take part in the initiative. To complete the online modules, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.
Notes to Editors
*data from evaluation of 2017 pilot programme
** year-on-year data on the proportion of incoming calls that are nuisance calls, provided by trueCall
***At the time of application, respondents reported an average overall well-being score of 63%, after three months they reported a significant increase in their well-being, with an average score of 74%. This increase is most notable amongst those respondents classed as vulnerable, who reported a lower average well-being score at installation 58% increasing to 72% after three months.
About National Trading Standards
National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues and organised criminality.
About Friends Against Scams
Friends Against Scams aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering people to take a stand against scams. Anyone can join the Friends Against Scams campaign by attending a Friends Against Scams awareness session or completing the online learning. With increased knowledge and awareness, people can make scams part of everyday conversation with their family, friends and neighbours which will enable them to protect themselves and others. To date, nearly 500,000 people have signed up to take part in the initiative. To complete the online modules, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.