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Mobile phone scams and how to avoid them

With the ever-growing capabilities of smart phones, we are relying more and more on these remarkable machines to keep us safe and connected. Unfortunately, as our tech becomes more sophisticated so fraudsters have thought up ever more devious ways to try to trick us.

Indeed, anyone can become a victim of a mobile phone scam, even those who’ve grown up in a digital world. Scams aren’t always obvious, particularly if you haven’t kept up to date on the latest ones and how to identify them. So, whether or not you’re a digital native, read our guide to spotting a mobile phone scam and learn how to stay safe.

Smartphones are expensive and sophisticated tools, so taking out the best insurance for a mobile phone is what any sensible owner would do.

Frustrated lady on phone

What are the most common types of scam?

A top-of-the-range mobile phone is one of the costliest pieces of tech we own and yet we regularly take them with us wherever we go. While mobile phone insurance will protect the phone from breakdown, damage and theft, what about the risk from scammers?

Mobile phones are perfect for linking our banking, emails, social media, health data and any number of important functions from both our personal and business lives. Cybercriminals prey on this, taking advantage of any weaknesses in our defences.

By targeting us for identity theft through our mobile phones the scammers can turn our lives upside down. This could have costlier implications if the mobile you use for work is made a target  – always protect your personal and business devices with mobile phone insurance.

Most scams try to make you do one of two things – either infect your device with a virus or malware or fool you into handing over valuable private data. Both can be very damaging to your financial health.

To avoid becoming a victim of fraud, you need to be aware of the latest scams. Here are four common forms of mobile phone scam to look out for:

Virus scams

Receiving a false alert claiming a virus has been discovered on your device is always a concern. We’ll all have seen these at one time or another on our home computers. Now with our phone’s ability to easily browse the Internet at any time or place, you’ll find them popping up on your mobile, too.

After telling you your phone is infected and needs urgent attention the scammer will try to convince you to download an ‘antivirus’ app. It may look like it’s from a legitimate business when, in fact, it is actually malware or spyware.

Once the malicious software is downloaded onto your smartphone, scammers can infect other devices or hijack yours. Some scammers will even take over your phone and then demand a ransom to give you back control of your personal and business data.

SMS phishing (smishing)

With phone scams by text message on the rise it’s important to be aware of this trick. Just as with email attachments or browser pop-ups, scammers can send malware or spyware via an SMS link. By simply clicking on the link your device can become infected. However, this isn’t the only route to becoming a victim of smishing. 

Some text scams will pretend to know about a recent accident or incident you’ve had. They will offer to help you claim compensation or some other reward. However, this is often a ploy to get your personal details.

Be very wary, even if the text appears to be from a trusted source, like a mobile phone provider. Legitimate companies will never ask you to provide sensitive information by text. Don’t reply, even by sending a ‘STOP’ text. Any engagement could put you on the list for further scams.

While we all love a bit of competition buzz in our lives, a text or advert encouraging you to enter a competition for a great prize might be too good to be true. Scammers often charge extremely high rates for the messages you send them. Simply, don’t reply.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ofcom received reports of scam texts pretending to be official Government alerts. For example, the scam text will claim you’re being fined for leaving your home during a lockdown. Or claim you’ve been in contact with someone with Coronavirus and need to click on a link to find out what to do. These scammers are playing on current fears and insecurities to fool the unwary.

If you receive a call, text or other communication that you think might be a scam, hang up or delete the text and report it to Action Fraud. Include the number used to contact you. Action Fraud is the reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Reports of fraud and any other financial crime in Scotland should be reported to police via 101.

Voice phishing (vishing)

As with any type of phishing, vishing is where a voice message or caller appears to be from a trusted source, but isn’t. If you’re not careful someone can easily steal your identity or money this way.

Part of the problem is due to it becoming easier for criminals to contact more people. By using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology they can target hundreds of people at a time. And can even ‘spoof’ the caller ID to make the call appear to come from a trusted source, such as your bank.

During a vishing phone call, scammers use sophisticated psychological techniques to get you to share personal information and financial details, such as account numbers and passwords.

Common vishing scams include:

  • Compromised bank or credit card account - You’ll be told there’s a problem with your account or a recent payment you made. You could be asked for your login details to fix the problem or asked to make a new payment. No matter how persuasive they are, don’t be fooled. No bank would ever make such requests.
  • Unsolicited loan or investment offers - Scammers love offers that are too good to be true as they know how desperate victims are to believe them. They'll say, for example, you could easily earn thousands of pounds or pay off all your debts with one quick fix. Usually, you are told you must act immediately or risk losing out to others. Sadly, these scams are often targeted at the people who can least afford such a loss. Reputable businesses don’t make such offers and don’t approach customers in such ways.
  • HMRC tax scam - There are many variations of this type of scam, but typically, you'll receive a pre-recorded message claiming to be from HM Revenue & Customs. It tells you something's wrong with your tax return and if you don't call back, you could face a large fine or even be arrested. Again, HMRC would never contact taxpayers in this way.

One-ring scams

A common and very irritating scam. Scammers call your mobile, but hang up after one ring. You then notice a missed call and ringback to find out who called you. In fact, the number used by the criminals leaves you with premium-rate charges on your bill.

Some common suspicious numbers will start with 0945, 0843 or 070 but there are many others. Ofcom has issued useful guidance on what to do on their website.

The charges the scammers earn can be applied just for connecting the call, even if you stay on the line for just a moment. But, in some cases, you will also hear a long-recorded message to keep you on the phone for longer so the charges mount up.

Unknown Caller

Warning signs of a mobile phone scam

With the ever-changing variety of scams out there it’s hard to keep track of them all. However, they often boil down to some common techniques worth keeping an eye out for.

  • Urgency or threats – Often scammers will claim you need to act fast or face the consequences. If they’re a legitimate caller they’ll let you ask questions and be happy to prove their identity.
  • Appeals to your emotions – Scammers often appeal to people’s good nature and pretend they’re from a good cause or charity. Unfortunately, scammers will try to take advantage of recent disasters or timely issues to fool you.
  • Too good to be true – It’s easy to get carried away with excitement if you come across an amazing deal or opportunity. If you start to feel excited about an offer out of the blue, then take some time to think it through rationally and be extra cautious.

Top tips to stay safe

The Metropolitan Police has issued some sound advice on some of the ways to avoid fraud, particularly with regards to online banking. To avoid mobile phone scams do the following:

  • Only use the official online banking app provided by your bank. If in doubt, contact your bank to check.
  • Only download apps from official app stores, such as Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
  • Avoid downloading apps from unofficial or unknown sources.
  • Keep your phone’s operating system updated with the latest security patches and upgrades.
  • Never give anyone your mobile banking security details and don’t store them on your phone.
  • Set up a password, PIN or fingerprint to unlock your mobile.
  • Create highly secure passwords and store them in a secure online vault.
  • Don’t give out personal details unless you know who you’re talking to.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) on public Wi-Fi.
  • Get antivirus tools for your mobile, but use a reputable brand. Some banks offer free antivirus software for customers’ phones.
  • Be wary of clicking on links in a text message or email. Don’t respond to unsolicited messages or voicemails on your phone.
  • Watch your phone bill. Unauthorized charges are a clear red flag of scammer activity.

What to do if you’re caught out by a mobile phone scam

Report the incident to Action Fraud. Remember anyone can become a victim and reporting it quickly could stop others suffering.

If you’ve been tricked into giving your bank details to a scammer, report it to your bank immediately. It will take the necessary action to stop the scammers using your cards or gaining access to your account.

If your bank refuses to refund any money that’s been lost then you could make a complaint to the financial authorities. Every year the Financial Ombudsman Service sees thousands of complaints involving fraud and scams.

Travelling abroad can make you vulnerable to scammers. Always contact your bank and mobile phone insurance provider before your trip to make sure they are aware and that you have the correct insurance in place.

Signs that someone you know is being scammed

Even if you don’t think you could be the victim of a scam, there is still the possibility someone close to you could be. Neighbourhood Watch identifies some signs to look out for. These are:

  • They receive high volumes of phone calls and/or texts.
  • They make frequent payments.
  • They talk about “opportunities” offered by callers.
  • They refer to callers as friends.
  • They talk about a helpful caller who has helped them to ‘fix’ their computer.

Mobile phone insurance from Gadget Cover

In our fast-paced lives it’s impossible to protect against all risks. But rest assured Gadget Cover’s team of insurance specialists will always find the best mobile phone insurance policy at the right price.

Life without a smartphone can be hard. That’s why policies arranged through Gadget Cover can include protection for your devices from accidental damage, liquid damage, theft, breakdown and unauthorised usage. For an extra premium, loss can also be covered.

If your gadget is accidentally lost or stolen, we will refund the cost of unauthorised transactions made using your e-Wallet facility (up to £500). And if you’ve got some mobile accessories, we’ll replace them (up to £150) if they are lost, stolen or damaged at the same time as your gadget.

If you’re taking your phone abroad, cover is also automatically extended to include use of your phone anywhere in the world, up to 180 days in any one year.

We can also extend cover to your immediate family in case they lose or damage your phone.

Get a quick quote for mobile phone insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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