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Phone scams, where a person or a computer calls you up and tries to trick you into saying, buying or doing something you later regret, are still a prevalent sort of cybercrime.

We’ve certainly had our fair share of them recently, sometimes clocking up several fake calls a day.

(We can’t tell whether that’s because we recently got a new phone number, or because cybercriminals have stepped up the number of scam calls during coronavirus lockdown, or both.)

What we have noticed is that most of the scam calls we’re getting these days are automated, and that the calls themselves – just likephishing emails that are trying to cajole you into taking the next step by yourself – are merely calls-to-action, not full-on sales pitches in their own right.

Sure, we still get plenty of cold-calling scammers who phone up in person, wade straight in and try to deceive us – common themes at the moment include:

  • Providing fake technical support for a non-existent “computer virus” on our home network. Here, the crooks go straight to work trying to get us to give them remote access to our computer as well as to hand over credit card details to pay for fake “work” that doesn’t need carrying out.
  • Offering fraudulent “good news” about a free care package for our heating system. This one seems to be a ruse to acquire personal details relating to existing utility accounts, information that is undoubtedly useful to criminals interested in identity theft.
  • Warning about problematic home insulation that “could be dangerous”. In this scam, the crooks are clearly angling for an invitation to send someone round to snoop on the property, passing themselves off as official or at least authorised “inspectors”.

But a significant majority of the phone scams we’re getting these days are what’s usually referred to as “vishing”, short for voice phishing or voicemail phishing.

Here, the criminals use automated techniques that seem to recite a message directly if they think a human has answered the phone, or to wait until the right moment to leave a message if they decide they’re through to voicemail.

Note that for the vast majority of recent fraudulent calls we’ve received here in the UK, the caller’s number has shown up as a UK landline, typically with a dialling code in one of England’s major metro areas.

Those calls that weren’t from landlines have all shown up as UK mobile phones – not one of them has been “Unknown” or obviously from overseas.