New findings highlight a surge in the proportion of scam and nuisance calls as callers target people over the age of 70 to exploit new and unfamiliar processes associated with COVID-19, such as applying for swab tests and vaccines.
The new data is released alongside findings from National Trading Standards that demonstrate the effectiveness of call blocker units and the positive impact they have on people’s wellbeing.
In a call blocker programme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, National Trading Standards led a programme to install more than 1,000 free call blocker units in people’s homes. The programme was designed to test their effectiveness at preventing nuisance calls, improving victims’ wellbeing and providing intelligence to support investigations against the perpetrators.
1,084 call blockers were installed and, after six months, more than 1 in 3 (35%) of the 283,700 calls received by the units were found to be scam or nuisance calls. 98,701 scam and nuisance calls were blocked by the units – more than 99% of the scam and nuisance calls received – saving consumers a projected £20,227,167.42.*
The average age of people using the call blockers was 75. The number of nuisance and scam calls prevented suggests that people in this age range are three times more likely to be targeted by scam or nuisance calls. On average, 23 scam and nuisance calls were prevented from reaching call blocker users every month. Meanwhile, the general population is thought to receive seven scam or nuisance calls per month.**
Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:
“This pilot clearly demonstrates that call blocking devices can eliminate the vast majority of scam and nuisance calls and protect victims from these crimes. Our report provides further evidence that people over the age of 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers – and that this can have a detrimental effect on their emotional and physical wellbeing.”
“Scam and nuisance calls can cause financial loss, emotional distress, social isolation, a loss of confidence and in some cases physical harm caused by poverty and stress. All regular landline users are likely to benefit from call blocker technology and we’re calling for devices to be made available to people in vulnerable situations to help safeguard them from fraud, scams and financial abuse.”
The call blocker units supplied are the trueCall Secure call blockers, which filter unwanted scam and nuisance calls and stop them from getting through to the consumer’s landline. The devices allow calls from a “trusted caller list” set by the user for friends, family members, doctors and any other trusted contacts.
The latest data from trueCall’s devices nationwide show that the proportion of scam and nuisance calls have returned to levels seen before the first lockdown. In April 2020, when lots of call centres were suddenly closed as a result of restrictions imposed by governments to halt the spread of coronavirus, 10% of calls received by trueCall devices were scam or nuisance calls. By October 2020, this figure rose dramatically to 35% - an increase of 250% - taking numbers of nuisance calls back up to levels experienced before the pandemic.***
Steve Smith, MD of trueCall said:
“The opportunities for scammers are much greater as people are less familiar with new procedures associated with vital services, such as Covid testing and Covid vaccinations. Scammers exploit this uncertainty and manipulate individuals by charging fees for false home testing kits or deceiving people into paying for non-existent vaccines.
“We’re proud that our call blocking devices are playing such a significant role to protect households by asking unrecognised callers to identify themselves before calls are put through."
The pilot also provided evidence of tangible improvement for individuals who use call blockers. 181 applicants volunteered in an academic wellbeing study by the National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University. At the beginning of the study the applicants had an average wellbeing score of 21.1, considerably lower than the UK population average score of 25.2. After installing a unit for three months applicants reported a significant increase in their overall wellbeing, reporting an average score of 26, in line with the national average.
Emily Rosenorn-Lanng, Research Project Officer for the Department of Social Science and Social Work at Bournemouth University, said:
“Our findings suggest scams are intrinsically linked with individual health and well-being, and highlight how merely receiving scam or nuisance calls can have a significantly negative impact on an individual’s sense of wellbeing, regardless of whether they actually engage with the scam or if there is any financial loss.
“The research also highlights the positive impact of call blockers and supports the installation of a call blocker for all individuals that are in receipt of scam and nuisance calls, with particular benefit to those who identify as vulnerable, and suggests that they could help many people to live more independently.”
The call blockers also provided real-time data to National Trading Standards, helping identify new intelligence about criminals’ activity from the calls being blocked by the units. The top three scam call types identified were:
- White goods insurance – Cover for appliances such as: fridges, freezers and washing machines
- Impersonation callers and spoofed numbers – NHS, BT, Amazon, water companies, fake goods such as CBD (Cannabidiol) oil
- Domestic home repairs – boiler service and drainage work
The devices have helped the team identify 147 individuals who have been targeting consumers with these types of scams and the telephone numbers associated with breaches have been shared with enforcement partners for further investigation.
As well as funding the call blocker programme, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is also running its Let’s Talk Loneliness campaign, which provides advice and support to encourage people talk more openly about the impact of loneliness on people’s lives, and encourage everyone to take simple actions to help them feel more connected. Loneliness is a prominent feature in scams, as criminals will often try to befriend their victims, especially if they’re isolated.
Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale said:
"Nuisance and fraudulent callers prey on the vulnerable and lonely causing great distress and sometimes significant financial loss. I am delighted that devices supplied under the scheme have helped identify 147 individuals targeting consumers with these types of scams and we have shared their phone numbers with authorities for further investigation."
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 700,000 people have signed up to take part in the initiative. To complete the online modules, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.
Members of the public are being urged to keep in contact with family members regularly and inform them of the most prolific scams and the possible dangers to them. If you or someone you know has been a targeted by a scam you should report it to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
Notes to Editors
* Full programme report available here.
** Ofcom suggests that the average number of nuisance calls received by the general
population per month is 7.4: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0033/159288/landline-nuisance-calls.pdf
*** year-on-year data on the proportion of incoming calls that are nuisance calls, provided by trueCall
Notes to Editors
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 700,000 people have signed up to take part in the initiative. To complete the online modules, visit www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk.