Regulator orders ‘number spoofing’ crackdown to combat fraud

Telecoms companies have been ordered to mount a fresh crackdown on scam calls and texts as new research reveals three-quarters of UK adults have been targeted by fraudsters in the past three months.

Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, has issued new rules to combat the problem of “number spoofing”, where scammers appear to be calling or texting from legitimate organisations such as banks, the police or government departments and dupe people into transferring cash.

“If a call to a mobile or landline appears trustworthy, people are more likely to answer it and follow the scammers’ instructions,” Ofcom said, estimating that about 700,000 people received spoof calls in the three months to August 2022.

To combat the problem, the regulator has strengthened its rules and guidance to telephone networks involved in transmitting calls — both to mobiles and landlines — to identify and block spoof calls.

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Providers must run “know your customer” checks on business customers and act to prevent potential misuse. This includes suspending numbers and reporting any evidence of fraudulent activity to law enforcement.

The guidance is based on an industry initiative which some telecoms providers have already voluntarily implemented. TalkTalk, one of the companies to take part, said it had seen a 65 per cent reduction in complaints about scam calls since it introduced the measures.

Ofcom has given phone companies six months to comply with the new rules, which come into force next May.

“Scam calls and texts are a major source of fraud, and they represent a clear and present danger to every phone user,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s group director for networks and communications.

“Blocking fake numbers can have a significant impact, so we’re making sure all phone companies apply this protection for their customers.”

The FT’s Money Clinic podcast previously reported on the case of 29-year-old listener Jenny who was targeted by scammers posing as her bank’s fraud team. She was falsely reassured that she was talking to her bank after looking up the number online, not realising that it was possible for numbers to be “spoofed”.

Her bank initially refused to refund the amount stolen from her account, but later agreed to do so when she took her case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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