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As scam calls reach new highs, here’s how to stop them

One billion scam calls have been made in 2021 alone.

Scams and plots aren’t simply restricted to unusual emails and trick websites. The number of nuisance and scam calls being launched by criminals looking to try and gain an edge or insight into how people live their lives is increasing significantly – perhaps a legacy of the ease of contacting us directly now that many of us are working from home.

More than one billion nuisance calls have been made in the UK in 2021 so far, according to data gathered by caller ID verification company Hiya, which analyses more than 13 billion calls per month.

Most alarming to the firm is the fact that the number is constantly gathering speed, too.

Nuisance call volumes are currently increasing 30% every month. Overall, the number of nuisance calls has increased more than 300% since March 2020.

Disinformation and COVID related spam is now the seventh most common form of nuisance call, say Hiya – which they claim could have an impact on the UK health service, the NHS, and their ability to reach vulnerable demographic groups who do not have access to the internet to invite them for vaccines or medical treatment, both around the coronavirus and not.

Tax scams come out on top

Using voice recognition, Hiya was able to analyse the content of the billion nuisance or spam calls that have been sent in the UK so far this year and see what areas they tend to focus on. Unsurprisingly, money talks: the top six areas of interest for scammers appear to focus on people’s personal finances or tax interests.

Top of the tree and the most common theme for spam or scam calls is tax scams.

The most common call people receive claims there’s an arrest warrant out in the victim’s name for tax fraud. Others ask for help to try and stop the suspension of someone’s national insurance number – a vital bit of information to ensure people get paid for the work they do in the UK. Others include retail scams, mail scams, asking people to pay for delivery charges to receive a package, and utility bill, credit card or payment scams.

Hiya data indicates that 94% of unidentified calls went unanswered in 2020 and 85% of respondents are concerned unidentified calls might be fraudulent. “Answer rates significantly increase when calls are identified,” says Alex Algard, Hiya’s CEO.

How to avoid scam calls

Being forewarned is being forearmed with many scams, and when it comes to scam calls, things are no different. Being conscious that there are scams around is vital, and being sceptical of any claims that people calling you make is important. It’s also necessary to not provide any personal identifying information to people who you don’t know the veracity of.

If people ask you for bank account details, passwords or PIN numbers, make sure you don’t give them away.

Caller ID can help identify who individuals are, though many reputable organisations that people are likely to interact with tend to use withheld numbers, which can make trusting whether they are legitimate or not more difficult. For that reason, it can often be worthwhile ending a call, waiting a period of time – because it is still possible for scammers to keep the phone line open for several minutes after you hang up – then dialling a number for the organisation who claim to have spoken to you that you’ve independently found online.

With all these things, it’s vital that people have a sense of proportion of the risks and rewards out there. More and more of our lives are being transacted remotely, when we aren’t able to look directly at or speak directly to the people who we’re trusting with major life events and massive sums of money. Being sceptical, but not so scared as to be paralysed into doing anything, is the way forward.

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