How to deal with scam calls on your mobile phone

Fraudsters are becoming more inventive as the world goes online. Nicole García Mérida explains how to combat them.

Hand holding a mobile phone
Always check a firm’s official contact number
(Image credit: © Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A fortnight ago I received a text from an unknown number saying I had a parcel from Hermes with an outstanding delivery fee. If I didn’t pay through the Hermes link in the text, my parcel would be returned to the sender. That text was a scam.

The trade association for the banking and financial services sector, UK Finance, notes in its half-year report for 2021 that criminals stole a total of £753.9m, a 30% increase compared to the same period in 2020. Authorised push payment (APP) fraud, where criminals trick customers into authorising a payment to them using tactics such as phone calls, text messages and emails, fake websites and social media posts, saw an increase of 71%. APP is a type of impersonation scam, where criminals pretend to be someone else, in these cases legitimate firms such as Royal Mail or institutions such as the NHS.

It’s not only couriers. Fraudsters will also pretend to be from your bank, often claiming they need to protect an account from fraud, or the police, insisting a fine be paid. Sometimes crooks will claim to represent a fraud prevention service. This type of heist is growing rapidly as fraudsters exploit our lifestyle changes. Online shopping and payments have all soared in the pandemic.

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Two things helped me identify my text as fraudulent. First, the phone number was not official. Genuine companies can show up on your phone not as a number but as a name. A company’s real name will be officially registered and thus legitimate, but scammers often create convincing names that closely resemble the real one: dpdIreland instead of DPD, for instance. If you are contacted by a mobile number, check the company’s website to find out what their official contact number is. Websites should also make clear how the firm will contact you.

Second, the website address it was encouraging me to click on was different from the real Hermes website (hermes.tracking as opposed to the real A Google search will reveal a company’s true address. Bear in mind too that only criminals will pressure you to act quickly. If you’re being badgered on the phone, hang up.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact your bank at once. The faster you report a scam, the more likely it is that your bank will be able to either stop the transaction or recover the money. Anti-fraud measures used by banks stopped £32m of fraud between January and June 2021.

Meanwhile, note that Stop Scams UK and the Global Cyber Alliance have launched the 159 pilot scheme, a new fraud hotline that will let you check whether a call from your bank is genuine. You can call 159 if someone contacts you saying they’re from your bank, even if you don’t have reason to believe the call is suspicious. It is running as a pilot scheme for a year. Participating banks are Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest, Santander and Starling Bank.

And remember the golden rule: withholding personal information until you have checked names or numbers through a source you know is legitimate is the best way to avoid a scam.

Nicole García Mérida

Nic studied for a BA in journalism at Cardiff University, and has an MA in magazine journalism from City University. She joined MoneyWeek in 2019.