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The Evolution of Foreign Call Centre Scams Has the UK Trained People to Scam Us?
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Overseas call centre scams have been a massive problem in the UK for a number of years, and it’s still ongoing, with an average of 21 million scam calls per month in the UK – that’s 8 per second. BBC’s ‘Panorama – Spying on the Scammers’ last night showed a huge amount of insight into one call centre in India which focuses solely on scamming victims in the UK, Australia and the USA.

These scammers pretend to be representatives from major companies like Microsoft, and convince their victims into sending over large payments in order to protect their computer from supposed viruses and malware. Alternatively they’ll use scare tactics and claim inappropriate content has been found on the device, making you pay up to have it removed. Other companies they portray include blanks, utilities companies and HMRC.

This is sometimes known as ‘impersonation fraud’ (where a scammer pretends to be someone they’re not) and it is one of the UK’s most common scams. Between April 2018 and April 2019, 23,500 complaints of this type of fraud were made to the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.

Financial losses to impersonation fraud are in excess of £9m per year, but it is believed by the Bureau that up to 60% of cases are never reported.

Has the UK trained scammers to commit fraud against us?

Since 1998, major UK companies have been outsourcing to foreign-based call centres to handle their customer service processes. Many banks, utility companies, communication providers and financial services have moved their call centres abroad, predominantly to India, in an effort to save money on more expensive UK premises and staff wages.

Where call centre scams mainly started with a few rogue employees working in genuine call centres making some extra money on the side by stealing customers’ data from their workplace, there are numerous of call centres in India where their entire business is cold-calling and scamming people.  

By working in large genuine call centres in the first place, these people have gained the experience required to enable them to effectively plan and carry out scams. Some centres even employ ‘Culture Trainers’ who teach workers how to sound British by teaching them conversational skills, popular culture, British colloquialisms and how to neutralise their accents.

Companies moving call centres back to the UK – So what will the workers do now?

Due to the lack of data security offered by foreign call centres, which has led to massive data breaches and fines in the past, some major UK companies have, or are planning to, move all operations back to the UK. For example, banking giant Santander moved all of their call centres back to the UK in 2011, with insurance company Aviva choosing to do the same. In 2003, BT outsourced their call centre operations to India, Bangladesh and the Philippines but have now pledged to have all operations moved back to the UK by 2020.

With several large companies pulling operations away from foreign countries and call centres closing down, this means that many workers will be left with no income but will still have the communication skills they have learnt. With unemployment doubling in India in the last few years and the resulting competition for jobs being so high, it’s no wonder that a lot of workers turn to gangs of scammers when so much money can be earned by those with the right skills.  

These gangs are almost impossible for UK police to trace, the scammers can change their phone numbers and IP addresses to make it appear as if they are in an entirely different country. So, unlike in the UK, there are few consequences of committing these crimes so there is no real deterrent to prevent them from happening.

How to protect yourself from call centre scams

Make sure you keep your computer and other devices up-to-date with the latest anti-virus software and malware protection. Scammers will often hack into your computer and freeze it until you call them to fix the problem. This is when they can scam you out of hundreds of pounds as they’ll say that your computer won’t be usable until you pay the fee.

If your computer freezes or displays error messages, take it to a local tech shop and ask them to have a look at it. They’ll be able to tell you whether there’s a genuine problem or not.

Never make a payment over the phone unless it’s a call that you’ve initiated by finding the company’s number on their genuine website. Never hand money over to someone who has called you out of the blue. Companies like Microsoft, banks and utilities companies will never cold-call their customers and ask for personal information, bank details or payments.

If you are at all unsure about a call your receive, hang up and phone the company directly by finding their number on their website.

Real Life Story

We spoke to Emma,33, who was scammed over the phone by someone claiming to be from HMRC.

This is what she told us of her experience.

“I’ve always believed myself to be very clued up as to what scams are going around and I am always taking extra precautions when it comes to my protecting my personal data. I’ve read stories of people who have been caught out by phishing calls in the past and I always wonder why they can be so easy to fall for.

I am self-employed, so last January I was expecting a large tax bill after filling out my self-assessment form. This was my first year self-employed so I had never done this before and I didn’t think to look up exactly how I would receive my bill, I just assumed they would either email it or send it to me in the post.  

So, when I got a call from someone who I believed to be from HMRC, it wasn’t completely unexpected. The man on the phone was very polite, and he gave me an employee number and a reference number straight away. He also told me that the call was being recorded for data privacy reasons, so everything sounded completely genuine.

He told me that I owed £2,345 to HMRC. He also told me that, if I didn’t make the payment today, I would face thousands of pounds in late fees and legal costs and my bank accounts could be frozen, or I could be arrested for ‘tax avoidance’. I wasn’t 100% sure of the laws surrounding this, as I said, this was my first time doing my own tax return, and he sounded very calm and genuine on the phone. He followed by giving me the details of a bank account to transfer the money to.

What he said was enough to frighten me into paying up so I told him I would settle the debt. He advised me to do the bank transfer whilst I was on the phone, so he was able to tell me immediately whether the payment had gone through in order to speed up the process. After I did the first bank transfer, he told me that the payment hadn’t gone through due to a problem their end. He asked me to do it again and confirmed that if the payment went through twice, I would be refunded immediately.

The call ended and I checked my bank account a couple of hours later. I saw that both payments had left my account and I had not been refunded for one of them. I went to phone them back and it said the number wasn’t recognised – this is when the alarm bells started to ring. I Googled the phone number that called me, and I was horrified to see that it wasn’t a number registered to HMRC and I actually found warnings from other people online saying to ignore this number as it is a scam.

I immediately called the police to report the crime.

After a couple of weeks of stress, I was told by my bank that they were unable to refund the money as I had authorised both transactions. The receiving bank were also unable to recover the money as it had been immediately moved to a separate banking provider in India.”

 

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