15th February 2021

Phone scam targets home workers

CTSI is warning about a new phone scam in which criminals pose as representatives of BT Openreach.


By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
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I am concerned that this kind of scam could catch people off guard; indeed, I know of two individuals targeted by it this month

Scammers are targeting the public by posing as representatives of internet provider BT Openreach.

The scam involves the caller claiming there are issues with the recipient’s internet connection and saying that they need to gain access to their computer to perform tests and fix it. The target is then asked to download an application called Teamviewer, enabling the scammer to gain remote access to a computer – and therefore access to personal files and potentially banking details.

Targeting home workers

There are heightened concerns about this kind of scam. Ofcom has reported that the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has led to a record surge in internet usage in the UK.

It also joins a series of other scams taking advantage of the pandemic on the doorstep, through email, and texts. Katherine Hart, a Lead Officer at CTSI, said: “The pandemic lockdown has led to record numbers of home workers, corresponding to a surge in internet use both in the UK and the wider world. I am concerned that this kind of scam could catch people off guard; indeed, I know of two individuals targeted by it this month.

“Since the first lockdown last March, fraud networks have used the pandemic as an opportunity to ruin people’s lives further, and I have warned the public about this at every step. We should not merely ignore it – we must report all instances of scams as this provides vital intelligence for the authorities.

“Do not be mistaken that scammers only use the BT brand – they hijack all kinds of internet provider brands to conceal their real intent.

“I ask the public to remain vigilant and take five minutes to think about this kind of communication. Doing this could mean the difference between keeping your assets safe or further trouble in what is an unprecedented period of difficulties.”

Scam epidemic

National Trading Standards (NTS) has highlighted that scam and nuisance phone calls have returned to levels seen during the first lockdown. In April 2020, when lots of call centres were suddenly closed as a result of restrictions imposed by governments to halt the spread of coronavirus, 10% of calls received by trueCall devices were scam or nuisance calls. By October 2020, this figure had risen dramatically to 35%, taking numbers of nuisance calls back up to levels last experienced before the pandemic.

The new data was released alongside findings from an NTS call blocker programme that demonstrate the effectiveness of call blocker units and the positive impact they have on people’s wellbeing. 1,084 call blockers were installed and, after six months, more than one in three (35%) of the 283,700 calls received by the units were found to be scam or nuisance calls. Some 98,701 scam and nuisance calls were blocked by the units – more than 99% of the scam and nuisance calls received – saving consumers a projected £20,227,167.42. More information is provided in the NTS Scams Team Call Blocking report here.

Louise Baxter, Head of the NTS Scams Team, said: “Our call blocking programme clearly demonstrates that call blocking devices can eliminate the vast majority of scam and nuisance calls and protect victims from phone scams. Our report provides further evidence that people over the age of 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers – and that this can have a detrimental effect on their emotional and physical wellbeing.”

“Scam and nuisance calls can cause financial loss, emotional distress, social isolation, a loss of confidence and in some cases physical harm caused by poverty and stress. All regular landline users are likely to benefit from call blocker technology and we’re calling for devices to be made available to people in vulnerable situations to help safeguard them from fraud, scams and financial abuse.”