Give cold callers the cold shoulder

Published by Donal MacIntyre on 07 March 2011.
Last updated on 26 April 2012

Donal MacIntyre

I've had a phone addiction since childhood. Growing up in our crazy house in Ireland, calls to the house would be received and answered up to three in the morning without a complaint. It was a 24/7 social call centre and we all loved it. OK, I'm Irish with an American mother, so talking would always come naturally to me.

Later, with the arrival of the mobile phone, my addiction got out of hand. When I worked for Five (Channel Five now) I personally accounted for one fifth of its mobile phone bill. One month I even managed to exceed £4,000. In my defence, I was travelling around the world at the time, and I suspect there may have been some fraudulent activity contributing to my high bill. At least that was my story and I'm sticking to it.

Our mobile phones - and emails - are now an extension of our bodies, if not our lives, so it's no wonder that mass-marketing scams conducted via phone calls, text messages, emails and mailings are cited as the fastest growing source of personal fraud, with the Office of Fair Trading estimating losses at £3.5 billion each year. Fraudulent ploys, from pyramid schemes and holiday clubs to high-risk investment schemes, cost each UK adult £70 a year.

Over 3.2 million of us a year are targeted by these kind of scams, and because they often go unreported, there may be many more victims out there. Phone users continue to be duped by the cold-calling fraudster. And who hasn't looked twice at an unsolicited but 'official-looking' email? No matter how sophisticated the scammer is and the type of scam – the most potent weapon against them is plain common sense.

How it works

When someone phones you and starts off by explaining that they aren't conducting a sales call, you can bet they are - and a dodgy one at that.

One of my colleagues recently received a call from a woman saying she wasn't doing a sales pitch but simply conducting "a pre-qualifying inquiry to gauge his suitability for receiving information regarding land investments in the UK". Reading from a script, she continued: "If given the right opportunity, would you purchase land if you could exceed the growth potential of your current investment?"

Luckily, my colleague, who's rather savvy, instantly smelt a rat and fired back some questions of his own – but the woman refused to divulge either the address of the company or the name of its chief executive, or give out any contact details other than a web address.

So if you're bored and wish to interrogate your cold caller then by all means do, and send us your stories to entertain us. Otherwise just hang up.

Play along

Moneywise reader John Golder, in his seventies, received an unsolicited call in January from someone claiming to be from NatWest. "He said he was calling me about mis-sold insurance on a mortgage I had from NatWest, and that it now wanted to refund me," John says.

Fortunately, John was immediately suspicious and put the phone down, but not before he was subjected to a tirade of abuse when he challenged the caller. And it didn't stop there – the calls kept on coming over the next few days.

John contacted NatWest and agreed to work with the bank to expose the fraudsters, so when he got another call from the caller purporting to be from the bank he allowed them to suck him into their scam. The caller said all the application forms for the 'refund' would be sent to John but "would he mind talking to the company's legal department for a security check?"

John went along with this and gave all the information requested, including his full personal and credit card details. As expected, £214.99 was taken from his account without his permission in two withdrawals. Within hours NatWest refunded John's money and the police were called in.

Promising money for nothing, with some seemingly plausible conditions, is a classic fraudulent manoeuvre, but don't fall for it. It might seem obvious, but if you receive an unsolicited call, hang up, delete those emails and don't ever press reply to any mass-marketed texts.

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