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Fraud: Phone Scammers

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 4 December 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to deal with fraud associated with phone scammers.

My Lords, the Government take the issue seriously. We are working with Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to ensure that all reported frauds receive an appropriate response from the police and that victims of phone scammers are provided with the right support. We are also working with Financial Fraud Action UK, which has issued advice to the public on avoiding phone scammers.

My Lords, a few months ago, I got a phone call saying that I had won £50,000 in a competition that I had never entered. All that I needed to do was to give them my date of birth, my national insurance number and my bank details. They said that they had my home address, so I said, “Well then, pop a cheque in the post—you don’t need this information”. The phone was soon hung up, but I am still waiting for the cheque.

The serious point is that people are ripped off by these criminals. What are the Government doing to ensure that our laws are as robust and up to date as possible and, when the perpetrators are based abroad, what are we doing with our foreign partners to sort these criminals out?

I apologise on behalf of the Government that the noble Lord has not received his cheque yet. It may be in the post, as they say. In terms of what the Government are doing on this very serious issue, which has received publicity in the run-up to Christmas, when some 75% of people will undertake online sales, it is very important that people think of their own security. In preparing for this Question, I was thinking that the system is very complex and difficult to remember—but it is incredible, the audacity of people ringing up and asking for PIN numbers. Amazingly, people actually do give them. Part of it is law enforcement, but another aspect is having a bit of common sense in dealing with our security.

Would my noble friend agree that on television virtually every day there is a warning that you should never give out your PIN number or your account number?

My noble friend is absolutely right. It is a fact that your bank, the Government and the police will never ask you to reveal your PIN number or your online password, and that message needs to get out to people.

My Lords, that is a very good question. That is part of where we all have responsibility to assist those people with dementia to protect them. But there are some sensible steps that can be taken in ensuring that payments made by people through direct debit cards or direct to bank accounts go through approved payment mechanisms such as major credit cards or PayPal.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one question that arises from my noble friend’s original Question is how the people who contacted him got hold of his telephone number in the first place? Does he also agree that the systems that are designed to prevent the sort of calling that results in people having to take that sort of call are extremely inadequate? It would be very helpful if we could have some information about how they are to be strengthened.

That is something that Ofcom is looking at. There is, of course, the Telephone Preference Service—

It is relevant in this regard—that you can go online, as I did this morning, and in five steps put in your mobile telephone number, and it will then be removed from the mass-mailing contact numbers that are often the first port of call for many of these phishing and vishing exercises.

My Lords, my family have been members of the telephone preference scheme for years and we still get telephone calls from people in the United Kingdom, not just Indian calls. How can they be stopped?

It is very difficult. Sometimes they are using data that were provided before the person delisted from the system. That is something that Ofcom is looking at, and the Government are engaging with Ofcom in that matter, but it is an ongoing problem that we will have to live with.

Why are local authorities now asking people to give all this personal detail when they are registering to vote? If it is voluntary, you either do not give it or you do—and I suspect that a lot of people are giving too much information, which the local authorities proudly say that they are selling. I cannot understand it.

Again, in that particular piece of legislation there is a provision whereby someone can choose not to have their details revealed.

Right, but the point is that that provision is there. A lot of what we have to do is in terms of making people aware of their rights in the disclosure of information, as well as being responsible.

As we know, a joint declaration by the UK banks, supported by the police, has been issued to make it clear what kind of information the banks would never request over the phone. Will the Government be taking any action to help spread that message, particularly to older people, who seem especially vulnerable to this sort of scam? Secondly, has the number of officers and civilian staff in local police forces engaged full-time in fighting the ever rising incidence of phone and computer scams and fraud increased or decreased over the past three years?

The number of individuals tasked with looking after cybercrime in the National Crime Agency has significantly increased, and that is mirrored by regional operations. We are working with various organisations, including the Financial Ombudsman Service and Ofcom, which we have already talked about. There is also an online facility at, where people can report suspected frauds. All those help in the intelligence-gathering operation. It is more difficult dealing with people who are not familiar with online operations, but perhaps that is where family members and friends can gather round, as they do in the instance of dementia, to help and protect those they know and love.

My Lords, could the Minister investigate how the Conservative association in the City of Westminster got my name and address? I am not on the electoral register, but in a communication addressed to me by name at my London flat I am being invited to join the Conservative Party. I do not know where they got those two details from, because I am deliberately not on the electoral register. The noble Lord’s party is wasting a lot of money inviting me to join.

Speaking as a member of the City of Westminster Conservative association, I can tell the noble Baroness that we are never without hope—particularly in the run-up to Christmas. That approach was perhaps speculative, and perhaps wrong.