Disconnection phone scam targets UK consumers
BT and Ofcom warn over nascent con
Scammers posing as representatives of phone service providers, such as BT, are calling up UK subscribers in an attempt to trick prospective marks into handing over credit card or bank details under threat of disconnection.
Plausibility is added to the scam by a trick designed to fool people into thinking that their line has been temporarily cut off, ostensibly under the control of the person calling them.
This happens after fraudsters are challenged to establish their identity as a representative of a telecoms carrier. In response, con men tell their prospective victims to hang up a phone and attempt to try phoning someone, claiming the line will be disconnected to prevent this. This supposedly establishes that conmen are calling on official business.
In reality, the fraudster stays on the line with the mute button on. Because the person who initiates a call is the one to terminate it, a prospective mark is left unable to make a phone call, or even obtain a dial tone.
The fraudster is able to hear the failed attempts to make a call. When these stop he is able to cut off the first call and immediately call back. To those unaware of the telephone system, particularly elderly or vulnerable people, this might easily be taken as establishing that someone is representing a service provider.
The next step comes with an attempt to trick victims into handing over debit or credit card details needed to settle a supposed debt.
Reg reader Alex forwarded details of the scam, which was unsuccessfully attempted against his friend, a Virgin Media customer. The fraudster, who posed as a BT representative, unsuccessfully insisted immediate payment of £31 was still due to BT, warning that reconnection at a later date would cost £118. The fraudster gave a 0800 number that (unsurprisingly) turned out to be bogus, though similar to the genuine number of BT Business.
El Reg contacted BT media reps who confirmed that they were aware of the scam, which has been occurring at a "fairly low level" across the country for the last two months or so. The attempted fraud targets customers of a range of telecoms providers, not just BT.
Customers with any doubts about who they might be speaking to about their account are advised to contact BT directly, using the phone number supplied on their bill.
BT security is liaising with a number of local police forces over the scam. In a copy of a statement already circulated to police, BT explained:
Fraudsters, pretending to be from various phone companies, have been calling people on the pretence that there is an outstanding bill and threatening to disconnect their line immediately if they do not pay the bill straight away.
The fraudsters have been pretending to "cut off" the customer. Worried about having their line cut off, some people have been persuaded into giving the fraudsters their bank account details.
The police are investigating and BT Security is looking into incidents where the fraudsters have claimed to be from BT.
Whilst BT does have debt handling procedures which may involve calling customers, BT never carries out disconnections during the call by way of proof.
We advise customers never to give out any banking details over the phone unless they are absolutely certain who they are dealing with.
If there is any doubt at all, a BT employee will be able to give the customer their employee ID number and an 0800 number to call, where the customer can check that they are who they say they are. The customer can also check their identity by calling 0800 800 150.
West Midlands police are leading an investigation into the fraud.
Conmen are also posing as telecom regulator Ofcom, again with the aim of fleecing the unwary. Ofcom posted a warning about the scam on its website on Thursday which can be found here.
In the example cited by Ofcom, fraudsters claim a consumer’s telephone line needs a digital upgrade. Targets are told they need to pay £6 within ten days to avoid the supposed risk of disconnection. As with the BT impersonation scenario, a fraudster will stay on the line to prevent outbound calls being made as a ruse designed to trick prospective marks into believing the bogus story. ®
Wouldn't be a problem if...
This wouldn't be such a problem if so many legitimate companies didn't ring you up and expect you to trust that they are who they say they are. I have been contacted by numerous companies that do this including banks, and they most surprised when you ask them to prove who they are. They can't prove that they have access to your details, and they don't generally have a means for you to easily contact the person calling you via a published number.
Not true, when the landline call leaves a switch board as 'unlisted' there is no tracking possible as when you elect to have your call leave with no identifier it leaves through a designated switch which never tags the number to the outbound call,
This is why sometimes when using a landline, the person you are calling may recieve you as an 'unlisted call' because the standard switch boards may be busy and the unlisted switch has lots of space, very rare, but it does happen.
CSH 2 Mins??
I don't know where people are getting this figure of 2 minutes from before the call is automatically disconnected??
We recieved quite a number of "prank" calls not too long ago - presumably from a mobile to a landline (judging by call quality).
It was a lot of people talking and laughing and background music, quite clearly there was no-one there to actually speak to.
Hanging up did not clear the line, and pulling the RJ11 did not clear the line either.
In total our line was "open" and unusable for around 3 hours....
The phone was left on the hook for just over an hour (thinking that might be a magic number) and then picked up to find the line was still open!
Shame we didn't know about the Redial button trick - but maybe its time to impose a time limit on this undocumented feature....