Scam call free-for-all shows no sign of stopping: Neil McNicholas

THREE years ago my 92-year-old mother was in a care home and her health had taken a turn for the worst. 
As a priest I had anointed her and, as there was nothing more I could do, I was back home waiting for word from the home.

What more can be done to combat phone scams?

The phone would ring and I would rush to answer it expecting the worst, only to see from the caller ID facility that it was a scam call, the second or third that day. I had the same experience towards the end of last year when, this time, it was my father who was dying.

Typically I receive as many as three or four scam calls a day for about a week and then they will stop for about two weeks and then they start up again.

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They claim to be from BT, or my broadband provider, saying there is a problem with my service or my account. More recently, with people doing so much shopping online, the caller claims to be from Amazon querying a recent larger-than-usual charge to my credit card. I immediately hang up.

How can the elderly be protected from phone cons?

Often it is quite obvious from the number registered on my phone that the call is a scam in which case I don’t even identify myself but keep absolutely silent which fails to trigger the automated system at the other end, thus confirming that the call is a con. I hang up.

But obviously as a priest I receive a lot of calls from numbers I don’t know but which look genuine and so out of politeness I identify myself – which is all the scam caller is waiting for.

Sometimes it’s a very polite pre-recorded male voice, more usually it’s somebody in a foreign call-centre, at which point I hang up.

Who are these people and where are they? Increasing fines for companies making such calls has obviously had no effect at all, suggesting they are not in this country and therefore have no fear of their calls being traced. And if they are not in this country, how are they able to identify themselves as using a BT phone number?

Presumably they must have some sort of electronic means of generating false numbers. If you go online, you will find these numbers identified as scam calls by people who are also concerned having had calls from them.

It is pointless changing your number because the systems that generate scam calls will eventually randomly call your new number in the same way.

If you report it to BT, they do nothing in response. If you are not a BT customer, they will tell you to complain to your service provider, and if you do they do nothing in response – if you even get a response.

Registering with the Telephone Preference Service is a complete waste of time and has no effect at all. 
And Ofcom – like all the “Ofs” is as much use as a proverbial chocolate teapot and seem to have a long list of all the things that aren’t their responsibility, leaving very little that is and dealing with scam calls is apparently not one of them.

And these scam callers know this of course. They know they aren’t going to be traced and caught and fined or arrested. They are probably not even in this country and so why should they worry? Sadly the calls they make successfully obviously outnumber the ones that aren’t successful and they are laughing, quite literally, all the way to the bank to claim and spend all the money they have scammed from people – especially the elderly and the vulnerable who are 
glad of a phone call and will sit and listen to what is said and be unwittingly taken in by it.

Surely people have a right to be protected from this criminal activity regardless of where these scammers are based.

Government agencies have the electronic means to trace phone calls – they do it all the time. If you were making obscene or nuisance calls to someone you would soon be caught and prosecuted, so why can’t they apply the same technology to putting an end to this scam calling once and for all? No one appears to be doing anything about it which is why it continues.

Meanwhile the advice is to hang up the phone as soon as you identify such a call – it may feel like you are being rude but better that than being taken for a ride – and don’t give any financial or personal details to anyone over the phone unless you know who you are talking to, and even then the question is how do you know, how can you be sure?

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.

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