Trading standards bosses have warned of an imminent spike in scam telephone calls as Covid-19 lockdown measures ease and call centres around the world – including bogus ones operated by criminals – start to reopen.
Between the end of March and May the percentage of nuisance calls made to UK homes as a proportion of total calls was much lower than the usual average of 37% a month, as all office-based call centres were forced to close.
However, National Trading Standards (NTS) is now predicting a sharp rise in the coming weeks as fraudsters exploit coronavirus fears and prey on vulnerable and older people self-isolating at home.
Analysis by the NTS of the latest data from call blockers trueCall – which it has used in household pilot schemes – reveals that the number of nuisance calls in March was 34% below expected levels and 77% less in April. However these figures are picking up, it says.
NTS is led by a group of senior local government trading standards heads from across England and Wales, and was set up by the government in 2012 as part of the legislative shake-up of consumer protection.
Despite the closure of call centres, the pandemic has provided new opportunities for some telephone scammers to exploit the public’s fears and the fact that they are stuck at home, it says.
One company, for example, was found to have made more than 680,000 automated scam calls over a four-week period, urging people to purchase face masks and hand sanitiser at a cost of £29.99-£49.99 by falsely claiming they were a government requirement. NTS took action to prevent further calls being made, in a move which it estimates has saved consumers more than £6m.
To coincide with the surge in telephone scams, NTS is offering 700 free call blockers on a first-come-first-served basis for households seeking to prevent nuisance calls.
Louise Baxter, the head of the NTS scams team, said: “Scam callers are relentless and often leave their intended victims feeling scared, anxious and unsafe in their own homes. Our pilot call blocker schemes have already shown the effectiveness of call blockers in protecting households from potential scams and the distress that these types of calls can cause.”
Members of the public are also being encouraged to protect themselves, friends and neighbours against scams by joining the Friends Against Scams scheme.
• This article was amended on 8 July 2020 to remove a reference to “UK trading standards” in the headline. National Trading Standards only covers England and Wales, not the whole of the UK.
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