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Phone scams

Here, we describe some of the most common phone scams and offer advice on how to deal with them.
4 min read
In this article
What are phone scams? How big is the problem? Things to watch out for
Nuisance calls and taking action How to take action against unwanted phone calls What to do if you’re caught out by a phone scam

What are phone scams?

A phone scam is where fraudsters call you on the phone (known as ‘vishing’), or send you a text message (known as ‘smishing’), to try and trick you into giving them personal information, bank details or money. A common trick is to impersonate a trusted organisation, such as your bank, utility company or a major retailer.


Phone calls are particularly intrusive. A real person is harder to ignore than a letter, text or email, and they happen more frequently than doorstep scams. Once your phone number has got on to a target list, it might be shared with numerous other scammers.


Read about some of the most common phone scams.


How big is the problem?

Phone scams by text message (smishing) are on the rise, according to the latest figures published by Financial Fraud Action UK. In 2014, it found that 58% of people had received suspect calls, a steep rise from 41% in 2013. Nearly £24m was lost to phone scams in 2014, which was treble the amount in 2013. Recent research from the Financial Ombudsman Service shows that 80% of phone scam victims are over 55 years of age.


Things to watch out for


It might be a scam if:

Checklist (ticks)
  • you’re asked to authorise the transfer of money to a new account
  • you’ve never heard of the company or person before
  • you’re asked to give your Pin or passwords in full (on the phone or via text) – your bank or the police will never ask you for this information
  • the person says that they will send someone to your home to collect cash, bank cards or anything else
  • you’re asked to reveal personal or banking information.


If you’re contacted by anyone asking you for personal details or passwords (such as for your bank account), you should take steps to check the true identity of the organisation. Ask the caller to verify their identity by asking them to give you details that only that company would know, such as details of your service contract or how much you pay per month.


If you still have concerns about the caller’s identity, you should hang up and call the company back, and preferably from a different phone.


Never disclose the following details:

Checklist (crosses)
  • your four-digit card Pin number, not even to your bank or the police
  • your full password or online banking codes
  • your personal details, such as your address and date of birth, unless you’re sure who you are talking to.


Nuisance calls and taking action


It can be difficult to tell the difference between a nuisance call and a scam. Nuisance calls are unwanted calls from legitimate companies trying to sell you a product or service. If you tell them you’re not interested, they will often go away. But some salespeople can be very persistent, and will go to great lengths to convince you, or will keep calling back, which is annoying.


A reputable company shouldn't be pushy. Take time to think about your answer and don’t be pressurised into buying something you don’t want or need. If it's not something you're interested in, decline and ask them to remove your details from the company's database. If they won’t go away, hang up. 


For more information, read the Which? Consumer Rights advice on how to stop nuisance calls.

How to take action against unwanted phone calls

You can’t stop unwanted phone calls completely, but you can reduce the risk by taking the following steps:

Safeguard us from scams
Fraud is costing Brits £9bn each year. Help Which? urge the government to make sure companies safeguard us from scams.

If all else fails, hang up! If an unwanted call does get through and the caller won’t go away, don’t be afraid to put the phone down. You’re not being rude – they are!

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

  • Report the incident to Action Fraud. Remember that anyone can become a victim of a scam and reporting it could stop others falling victim to the same scam.


Action Fraud

UK’s National Fraud reporting centre, monitoring and investigating cases of fraud. If you’ve been scammed or conned, let them know.


Report fraud by speaking directly to specialist fraud advisers. They will also be able to give you help and advice about fraud.

0300 123 2040

Mon–Fri, 8am–8pm

  • If you’ve been tricked into giving your bank details to a scammer over the phone, 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.

Further reading

Scams aimed at older people

Read our guide on common scams and how to identify them. Plus, share it with relatives and friends, to help them keep ...

Postal scams

Find out how to avoid common postal scams, the scale of the problem and what to look out for.

Last updated: 13 Dec 2018