Messaging scams problem ‘still rife,’ warns Which?

New Which? data reveals that one in three people who text have received a scam message in the last six months, leaving them vulnerable to money or data loss.

Which? surveyed members of the public to investigate the scale and impact of messaging scams on people across the UK.

Alarmingly, Which? discovered that of those who had received a scam message in the last six months, over one in 14 (7%) had lost personal data, money – or both.

The consumer champion is calling on firms to put much better protections in place to prevent these fraudulent messages reaching people’s phones and devices.

Which? found that a third (34%) of respondents that use text messaging had received a scam text message in the last six months, while over half (59%) had received one at some point. After texts, Facebook Messenger was the most common platform for messaging scams, with a sixth (16%) of users having received a fraudulent message in the last six months, and over a third (35%) at any time. This was followed by one in 10 (10%) Whatsapp users getting a scam message in the last six months, and over a fifth (22%) at least once at any time.

The most common scam message claimed to be from HMRC – with more than 4 in 10 (42%) people who received a fraudulent message in the last six months receiving it. This was followed by a third (34%) receiving a message saying they had won a competition and a third (32%) an ‘injury claim.’ Meanwhile, fraudulent Paypal messages were received by just under a third (29%) of respondents. In January, HMRC announced that it had cut the most convincing messages reaching phones by 90%. But these new figures suggest there is still work to do on this issue.

Messaging scams typically aim to trick people into clicking links or calling a number to disclose personal or financial information. Fraudsters also use ‘number spoofing’ to make the recipient’s phone display the name of an organisation instead of a number, making the fraudulent text seem like an official message.

Which? is warning people to be vigilant as this type of scam can lead to the loss of sensitive information or life-changing sums of money. Just recently, Which? heard from a TSB customer who was tricked after receiving a scam message that claimed to be from the bank. The fraudster had capitalised on TSB’s ongoing IT crisis and subsequently convinced the individual to transfer £70,000. Fortunately, TSB reimbursed the money to the customer after committing to MPs that it would refund customers who fell victim to fraud during its IT meltdown.

In February 2016 a new fraud taskforce was established by Government with one of its aims to address vulnerabilities that fraudsters can exploit. However, it is not clear what progress has been made, and Which? is calling for an update to include any work being done to tackle the problem of scam messages.

Which? believes that firms should work with telecoms companies to try to prevent these messages from reaching peoples’ phones, while also developing secure and trusted alternatives for contacting their customers. Customers should also be given better ways to verify any genuine business that is contacting them.

Adam French, Consumer Rights Editor said:

“We found frightening numbers of people are receiving scam messages, leaving them vulnerable to the loss of their hard-earned cash and also sensitive personal information. Firms must take action to introduce the systems needed to stop these messages reaching people’s devices.

“While we await action on this, it’s important that people remain as vigilant as possible. Stop and think about a message you receive before engaging in communication. The problem is still rife – any unexpected messages could well be a scam.”

Notes to editors

Which? surveyed 2093 members of the public via Populus in June 2018. The ‘six months’ therefore relates to January – June 2018.

In response to Which?’s research an HMRC Spokesperson said:

“HMRC is a trusted brand that fraudsters regularly try to exploit. We’re aware of these scams and have a dedicated team who work with Internet Service Providers, other government departments and law enforcement to identify, frustrate and close down fraudulent operations. We use a range of technical solutions to prevent malicious messages getting through to our customers, and offer comprehensive advice to the public to help them identify genuine communications.”

Which?  advice, click link: How to spot a messaging scam

Which? top tips:

1) Was the message unexpected?

2) Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

3) Don’t follow any links in the message

4) Don’t share any personal information, passwords or PIN numbers

5) Contact the organisation directly if your concerned

6) Never reply to the message

7) Report the scam message

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