UK phone companies will make it harder for scammers to use their networks, under a range of measures proposed by media regulator Ofcom today.
Almost 45 million people were targeted by scam calls and texts last summer. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and nearly a million of these consumers followed the scammers’ instructions, risking financial loss and emotional distress.
Ofcom works with phone companies to help them block calls that imitate – or ‘spoof’ – the phone numbers of legitimate organisations, such as banks and Government departments. However, as it stands, fraudsters quickly adapt to changing circumstances and technology, with the pandemic being rife for criminals to exploit phone users with fraudulent vaccination links and impersonating delivery companies.
As such, the watchdog is proposing strengthened rules and guidance to combat number spoofing. All telephone networks involved in the transmission of a call will be expected to block numbers that are clearly spoofed. This rule would apply to all phone companies, ensuring the protection applies to millions of people.
Spoofed numbers can be identified in a number of ways. Examples include calls originating from abroad that do not have a valid caller ID, using a number that does not meet the UK’s 10- or 11-digit format, and calls appearing to be from numbers that are already on Ofcom’s Do Not Originate list.
The guidance on blocking calls from abroad that falsely use a UK number is based on an initiative developed by industry, which some providers have already implemented voluntarily. One of these – TalkTalk – previously stated it had seen a 65 per cent reduction in complaints about scam calls since it introduced this measure.
It has also proposed new guidance to help companies prevent scammers from accessing valid phone numbers.
In fact, Ofcom allocates millions of telephone numbers, usually in large blocks, to telecoms companies. These companies can then transfer the numbers to other businesses or individuals. All phone companies are expected to take reasonable steps to stop their numbers being misused, but these efforts can vary.
The new guide sets out expectations for phone companies 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 FCA’s Financial Services Register 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.
Huw Saunders, Ofcom’s Director of Network Infrastructure and Resilience, said: “The threat posed by scammers has grown significantly in recent years, and the sophisticated tactics used by these criminals can have devastating consequences for victims.”
“We’re taking action so phone companies have stronger systems in place to disrupt scams. While there is no silver bullet that will end the scourge of scam calls completely, we’re working with industry on how we can use technology to make it as difficult as possible to reach people.”