New Ofcom rules to fight fake number fraud


INSIGHT
Published
Nov 15th '22
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  • 41 million people targeted by suspicious calls and texts this summer
  • Phone companies will be required to identify and block ‘spoofed’ calls, where feasible
  • New guidance sets out how telecoms firms should make sure real numbers are not misused

 

Phone users will be better protected against scammers using fake phone numbers, under new rules announced by Office of Communications (Ofcom).

 

Scams are a widespread problem – three quarters of people have received a suspicious call or text in the last three months. This represents an estimated 40.8 million adults in the UK.[1]

 

A common tactic used by criminals to defraud victims is to imitate – or ‘spoof’ – the phone numbers of legitimate organisations, like banks and Government departments. If a call to a mobile or landline phone appears trustworthy, people are more likely to answer it and follow the scammers’ instructions. Ofcom estimate that around 700,000 people had done this in the three months up to August 2022 alone, risking financial loss and significant emotional distress.[2]

 

To help combat this problem, Ofcom is strengthening its rules and guidance to require all telephone networks involved in transmitting calls – either to mobiles or landlines – to identify and block spoofed calls, where technically feasible. This will make it harder for scammers to use spoofed numbers.

 

  • Stopping spoofed scam calls

Many phone handsets let you see the number of the person calling before you answer. New Ofcom research has found that more than nine in ten people who have this facility decide, at least some of the time, whether to answer a call or not based on the number displayed on their handset.[3]

 

The study also reveals that people are more likely to pick up a call from a UK number they don’t recognise, than an unknown international number or a withheld number.[4] Fraudsters based abroad often exploit this, and spoof UK caller IDs knowing recipients are more likely to answer.

 

As well as strengthening the rules, Ofcom has also updated guidance on how all phone companies should identify and block spoofed calls. This includes:

 

  • making sure a number meets the UK’s 10- or 11-digit format;
  • blocking calls from numbers that are on Ofcom’s Do Not Originate list;[5] and
  • identifying and blocking calls from abroad spoofing a UK caller ID.

 

Ofcom guidance to telecoms firms to identify and block calls from abroad that falsely use UK numbers is based on an industry initiative, which some providers have already implemented voluntarily. One of these – TalkTalk – previously stated it had seen a 65% reduction in complaints about scam calls since it introduced this measure.

 

Ofcom is giving phone companies six months to make the necessary technical changes to comply with these new rules, which will come into force in May 2023.

 

  • Cracking down on the misuse of real numbers

Ofcom has also issued new guidance to phone companies on how they can prevent scammers from accessing valid phone numbers.

 

Ofcom allocates telephone numbers, usually in large blocks, to telecoms firms. They can then transfer the numbers to individuals or other businesses. All phone companies are expected to take reasonable steps to stop their numbers being misused, but these efforts can vary.

 

New guide sets out clear expectations for providers 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 Financial Conduct Authority’s Warning List 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.

 

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Group Director for Networks and Communications, said: “Scam calls and texts are a major source of fraud, and they represent a clear and present danger to every phone user. Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it’s easy to be caught out by a scam.  …  We’re constantly working with phone companies and other organisations on new ways to combat these scams. Blocking fake numbers can have a significant impact, so we’re making sure all phone companies apply this protection for their customers.”

 

A scam call or text is just one way fraudsters attack, but they use other channels too, including social media and search services. So it is important for Ofcom and other enforcement agencies to take a holistic, joined-up approach that takes account of the many and varied ways people can be exposed to scams. Ahead of receiving new powers as the UK’s online safety regulator, Ofcom has also been looking in detail at online users’ experiences of online fraud and will be publishing findings next year.

 

Once approved by Parliament, the Online Safety Bill is set to impose new duties for online services to tackle fraud. It will hold online user-to-user services and search providers accountable for taking proportionate steps to mitigate and manage the risks that fraud poses to their users.

 

Source: Ofcom

 

Background

  1. Ofcom CLI and Scams Consumer Research 2022, Population estimate: 40.8 million, (confidence interval: +/- 1.3 million) Number of UK Adults 16+ who received at least one suspicious call and/or text message and/or app message on their landline and/or mobile phone in the three months prior to being interviewed.
  2. Population estimate: 700k (confidence interval: +/- 300k) Number of UK Adults 16+ who received a suspicious message over text, live call, or messaging app and did as instructed by the message/person (e.g. clicked on a link or provided bank details over the phone).
  3. In August 2022 Ofcom surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,030 people in the UK and asked them about their experiences in the previous three months. 93% of mobile users look at the number displayed on their handset to decide whether to answer a call. 77% of landline users have a handset that displays the incoming caller’s number and 91% of those who have a caller display facility said they decide whether to answer a call by looking at the number on the handset at least some of the time.
  4. Ofcom research shows that 74% of people who have caller display on their landline and/or mobile phone and use it at least some of the time to decide whether to answer, are unlikely to pick up a call from an unknown international number and 57% are unlikely to pick up a call from a withheld number. This falls to around 45% for UK numbers that people do not recognise.
  5. Ofcom’s ‘Do Not Originate’ list is used by phone companies to block calls which spoof numbers that organisations such as banks and Government departments never use for outbound calls.

 

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