Scam Calls – Call to Action

I’ve had two scam calls already today. One on the land line, one on my mobile. The first one said I had a problem with my Sky box and it was out of warranty. I haven’t had Sky for a number of years, at which point he very rudely hung up without saying thanks and goodbye. The second one told me I had been in a car accident. It must have given me, what’s it called, thingamy, ah yes I remember, amnesia, as I don’t remember that accident although I do have a bruise on my leg I can’t explain. I asked the woman if she was a robot and she immediately put me through to a foreign call centre agent (judging by the broken English) who hung up when I queried his authenticity. I might play the game a bit longer next time just to see what exactly they are trying to steal from me.

Make no mistake, attempting to defraud people is a serious criminal offence under Section 2 of the Fraud Act 2006, which can carry up to an 8 year sentence under sentencing guidelines. It is a serious criminal offence I have been the victim of twice today. Scale that up and you get to over 5 billion offences in the UK per annum very quickly. Yet the official position is to look like they are taking it seriously but actually do virtually nothing to stop it. If you had 5 billion attempted burglaries or street robberies then heaven and earth would be moved to take out the offenders.

Both calls used normal UK geographical numbers. One in Bodmin, one a London number. At one time I would have been angry at BT for allowing use of UK phone numbers for this purpose. You should need to be a legitimate business or resident to get a phone number. But unfortunately most of the time these are foreign calls using technology to spoof non-existent UK numbers. I am guessing they can also spoof bank and official numbers too, so you think it is a legitimate caller when it certainly isn’t. I am not the scammers’ target – they won’t get me all the while I have all my marbles, though one day I might lose them. They are trying to find elderly and/or vulnerable people to persuade to hand over bank and card details for financial frauds, or personal information to enable identity theft. When it happens the victims are quite often labelled as stupid or ignorant, at best naive. There is no sympathy, and usually no redress. Local police forces certainly won’t be interested.

Ofcom say they are trying to find solutions. I would say they are not trying hard enough. Calls originating abroad are entering the UK telephone network bearing UK caller IDs. Use technology to stop the calls before they get onto our telephone infrastructure. If the mobile companies are clever enough to tell me what number is calling, they are clever enough to know whether that number is a real number or not in service and stop it. If anyone is using legitimate UK numbers for fraud, then we should be enforcing the law by fining and jailing the directors, managers and call agents, and also fining the supplier of the number a hefty amount for facilitating fraud by failing to carry out due diligence on who they are providing services to.

I’ve no doubt that countering scam calls isn’t as easy as flicking a switch and 10 minutes later there are no more scam calls. It won’t be cheap, it won’t be easy, but it must be dealt with. You can use carrots – Government funding for technical solutions, specialist national policing units, paying overseas Governments the money to track down and prosecute and then incarcerate the call centre owners and agents. According to today’s Chancellor we are awash with spare cash at the moment so money shouldn’t be a problem. And you can use sticks – make the telephone companies pay for fraud that occurs because their systems did not block the call before it reached their customer. Sticks might encourage the very rapid development and implementation of technical solutions to solve the problem. Or maybe both carrots and sticks. We should also start handing out the top end of the sentencing range more often. For offences of trying to defraud less than £12,500 you can get a Community Order. Hardly a deterrent but that’s a post for another day.

Alan Paton’s definition of “Liberalism” encompassed a commitment to the rule of law. As Liberal Democrats it doesn’t mean we should be soft on criminals to the detriment of victims. Justice should deter, by ensuring that the odds of being caught and punished are raised much higher, and punish, as well as rehabilitate, the offender so they do not re-offend. Currently we don’t even bother trying to catch the perpetrators of 5 billion serious crimes annually, and even if they do get caught they often do 80 hours of unpaid work and that’s it. So a suggestion for the Liberal Democrats is to begin to throw off the perception that we are soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime and start to show we are on the side of victims rather than poor lost sheep that make 100 phone calls a day trying to steal pensions and life savings.