Sneakiest phone scams

Updated on 06 March 2012

Whether you have a landline phone or a mobile, make sure you watch out for these sneaky scams...

1) A call from the taxman

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has warned that taxpayers need to be vigilant following reports that thieves are making phone calls pretending to be the taxman.

In summary, you receive a call informing you that you are due a tax rebate. You’re then asked to divulge your bank card details over the phone so the money can be paid into your account. But of course, what actually happens is that the fraudster tries to take money from your account using the details you’ve passed on.

This scam is similar to one which has also been happening via email. HMRC has shut down hundreds of websites that were responsible for sending out fake tax rebate emails.

Stay safe: If you are due a tax rebate, you’ll only ever be contacted in writing by post. If you receive a phone call that seems suspicious, don’t hand over any information and report the call to the police. If you receive an email claiming to be from HMRC, send it on to HMRC for investigation and then delete it. 

2) You’ve won a holiday!

The phone rings and you answer it to hear a recorded message telling you you’ve won an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Barbados. However, to claim the holiday, you need to call back on a number that starts with 090.

This is a premium rate number and if you call it, it can cost you as much as £1.50 a minute. What’s more, if you want to hear the full details of what you’ve won, you’ll have to listen to the entire call which usually lasts around 10 minutes – so by the end of the call, you’ll have forked out £15.

If you do reach the end of the call, you’ll then find out you need to send away for the prize in writing – only to find out the holiday never even existed.

Alternatively, you may receive a call telling you that to collect your holiday prize, you’ll need to attend a presentation. However, at the presentation you’ll be persuaded to sign up to an exclusive club and pay a fee for the privilege. Once you’ve done this, you’ll discover you’ve bought little more than access to an internet booking service offering the same service you could find in your local travel agent.

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Stay safe: If you’re told you’ve won a holiday, don’t return the call and don’t attend any presentations. If you haven’t entered a competition to win a holiday, it’s highly unlikely you will have won one!

3) Mobile phone insurance

Having recently bought a new mobile phone, you receive a call from the shop you bought it from, offering you an amazing insurance deal. If you accept, you’ll be asked to hand over your bank details. And if you do this, you’ll later discover your mobile phone isn’t insured after all, the person who phoned you wasn’t who he said he was, and your bank account is now looking a little empty.

Stay safe: Be very wary of any calls you receive like this. If you do receive a call and believe it might be genuine, hang up and call the company back. You can also check whether the company they claim to work for is legitimate by checking the FSA Register.

If you do want mobile phone insurance, you’re much better off simply shopping around for a deal yourself. Find out more in Which mobile phone insurer is the best value?

4) You’ve won a free phone!

You receive a text stating you’ve been selected for a completely free phone on a first come first served basis. All you have to do is call an 0800 number.

When you make the call, you’ll be told you can have one of the latest mobile phones free of charge - in return for an 18-month contract with stacks of free minutes and texts. The contract will cost you £30 a month, but each quarter the company will deposit £90 into your bank account – so effectively you’ll be getting it all for free.

You’ll then have to hand over your bank details and credit card details, as well as your address so they can deliver the phone. And, of course, the minute you do that, the minute the scammers will have access to everything they need.

Stay safe: Don’t agree to anything on the phone. If you receive a call, say you’ll phone back and then check out the company fully online to find out if they’re legitimate. If they want you to agree to a deal immediately, chances are it’s a scam.

5) You’re going to be disconnected

You receive a call from someone posing as a representative of a major telecom provider, such as BT. You’re told that either your account is in arrears, or your telephone line needs digital upgrade work. As a result, you’ll need to hand over your bank details to make a payment.

You’re then tricked into believing your phone line has temporarily been cut off – which leads you to think the call is genuine. However, in reality the fraudster stays on the line with the ‘mute’ button on, meaning you can’t make any calls.

Stay safe: BT says it never carries out disconnections over the phone and all employees will be able to give you their employee ID number and an 0800 number to call. So if you think the call is suspicious, ask for this and call the employee back.

Find out more about this scam at the website of telecoms regulator Ofcom.

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A final word

If you receive any suspicious calls, you can report them to PhonepayPlus, the regulator of premium-rate telephone services. You can use its online complaints form or call 0800 500212. PhonepayPlus can investigate complaints and has the power to fine companies and stop them offering premium-rate numbers.

If you’ve been caught out by any of these scams or others, you can warn fellow readers using the comment boxes below. And don’t forget to check out the Safe From Scams website for more information.

This is a classic lovemoney article that has been updated

More: Tony Levene's scams blog | How to call 0845 and 0870 numbers for free


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