A 250% increase in the proportion of nuisance and scam calls has been recorded as fraudsters exploit the coronavirus crisis.
The findings were made following a call blocker programme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
National Trading Standards led a programme to install more than 1,000 free call blocker units in people’s homes.
The average age of people using the call blockers was 75 and around 23 scam and nuisance calls were typically prevented from reaching call blocker users every month.
By comparison, the general population is thought to receive around seven scam or nuisance calls per month.
The call blocker units were supplied by trueCall Secure and allow calls through from a “trusted caller list”.
National Trading Standards said that additional data provided by trueCall shows that, in April 2020, 10% of calls received by trueCall devices were scam or nuisance calls.
By October 2020, 35% were scam or nuisance calls, marking a 250% increase in the proportion of dubious calls.
Louise Baxter, head of the National Trading Standards scams team, said: “Our report provides further evidence that people over the age of 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers – and that this can have a detrimental effect on their emotional and physical wellbeing.”
TrueCall managing director Steve Smith said: “The opportunities for scammers are much greater as people are less familiar with new procedures associated with vital services, such as Covid testing and Covid vaccinations.
“Scammers exploit this uncertainty and manipulate individuals by charging fees for false home testing kits or deceiving people into paying for non-existent vaccines.”
The call blockers have also provided real-time data to National Trading Standards.
The top three scam call types identified involved insurance being offered for white goods such as fridges, freezers and washing machines; fraudsters impersonating legitimate organisations such as the NHS, BT, Amazon, and water companies; and offers of fake goods and scams involving domestic home repairs such as boiler servicing and drainage work.
The devices have helped the team identify 147 individuals and the telephone numbers associated with breaches have been shared with enforcement partners for further investigation, National Trading Standards said.
As well as funding the call blocker programme, the DCMS is also running its Let’s Talk Loneliness campaign, which provides advice and support to encourage people to talk more openly about the impact of loneliness.
Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale said: “Nuisance and fraudulent callers prey on the vulnerable and lonely, causing great distress and sometimes significant financial loss.
“I am delighted that devices supplied under the scheme have helped identify 147 individuals targeting consumers with these types of scams and we have shared their phone numbers with authorities for further investigation.”
People are also being encouraged to protect themselves, friends and neighbours by joining Friends Against Scams, which provides free online training. To date, nearly 700,000 people have signed up.
More information is at available at https://www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/
People are also being encouraged to keep in contact with family members and tell them about scams. If they have concerns, they can contact Citizens Advice, and scams can also be reported to Action Fraud.
Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said: “Everyone must be vigilant and scrutinise any call, text message or email received from the Government, NHS, HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), Ofcom or their local authority.
“These communications can be very convincing, and it is easy to fall for their promises during this difficult time where many are under their own financial pressures, but everyone must remain vigilant to these scams and tell family and friends what to look out for to help avoid falling victim.”