11.10.2021 NEWS

Managing Phone and Text Scams on your Mobile

Many of us dread receiving a call from an unknown number or a text message that we don’t recognise. How we manage those calls and messages can be important. Furthermore, we hear many stories of customers accidentally signing up for monthly text subscription that they are subsequently unsure how they managed to sign up in the first place.

Fraudsters are getting smarter, and it is important that mobile customers are cautious when receiving calls and messages from unknown sources. In a few recent reports, we heard of a few mobile customers who received a telephone call from who they thought was their bank. The bank’s local telephone number even came up on the mobile phone, however, it was not. The customer had given over information to what he thought was to his bank, which unfortunately resulted in money being withdrawn from his bank account. Fraudsters are sending text messages and making calls from what seems to be a ’legitimate number’. Most commonly, text messages are claiming that a small payment is needed before a package can be delivered. Then when you click on the link, they try to steal your banking details.

Situations like these are making it difficult for telecoms organisations and authorities to tackle the problem. In the 12 months to March 2021, phone call and text message fraud across England, Wales and Northern Ireland was up 83% from the previous year, according to consumer group Which?.

Which? analysed data from Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime and says this was the biggest rise across all types of fraudulent attacks. It adds that the jump was fuelled by more people getting things delivered during the pandemic, which led to a corresponding huge rise in fake parcel delivery text notifications. Matthew Gribben, a cyber security expert, says that criminals are able to make it look like their phone call or text is coming from the real telephone number of a bank or delivery firm, due to continuing vulnerabilities in the UK (and other countries) telephone network systems. “There’s no way for the current UK phone network to guarantee 100% that the presentation number it is being told is the actual originating number – it has to take your word for it,” says Mr Gribben, who is a former consultant to GCHQ, the UK government intelligence agency.

The core of the problem is a telephone identification protocol called SS7, which dates back to 1975. It is a little complicated but bear with us. SS7 tells the telephone network what number a user is calling or texting from, known as the “presentation number”. This is crucial so that calls can be connected from one to another. The problem is that fraudsters can steal a presentation number, and then link it to their own number. SS7 is used in telecoms networks globally.

Jon France, head of industry security at the GSMA, the trade organisation that represents mobile network providers around the world, says that “a lot of these problems will disappear” after 5G networks have been fully rolled out. This will mean that SS7 – and 2G and 3G – can be totally replaced.

When it comes to fraudulent telephone calls, there has been a big increase in so-called “robo-calling” – automated voice calls in recent years. Call authentication systems do exist that can help stop them, and the UK’s telecommunications regulator Ofcom says it is consulting with the telecoms industry to see what can be implemented, and how soon.

Jo Wimble-Groves, Business Director of Active Digital commented; “scams are becoming more sophisticated every day and so we need customers to be vigilant and cautious when receiving calls or messages from an unknown source. A number of authorities have ordered mobile operators to implement the protocols by the end of 2021, but Ofcom says UK providers can’t do so until networks are sufficiently upgraded, by 2025. Until then, if you need help, advice, and support, please contact our team on 01892 893000 or email support@activedigital.co.uk. We are here to help our customers in every way that we can.”

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