How phone scammers trick Europeans
Telephone fraud is an international phenomenon. Almost no country can be free from it if its people actively use modern gadgets and use most financial and other services online. In this article, we will talk about phone scams in European countries and what measures the leaders of these countries take to protect their citizens.
Types of fraudulent calls
The results of a survey conducted by the British research company Ofcom during the third quarter of 2021 showed that about 45 million people (almost 70% of the country’s population) were victims of fraudulent messages or calls.
Moreover, if people aged 16 to 34 are more likely to be tricked using a series of SMS messages, the elderly become victims of telephone scammers. According to the study, 6 out of 10 retirees over the age of 75 have received a suspicious call on their landline.
The amount of damage from fraudulent schemes is very significant. According to an online survey of Spanish residents (results published in April 2019), 8.3% of the victims lost from 1,000 to 5,000 euros, and almost 19.8% — from 100 to 1,000 euros.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse. The French edition of Capital in October 2021 cited the following data: during the crisis in the healthcare system, crimes involving online payments increased by 16%, involving transfers — by 65%.
Phone fraud schemes are versatile, but first of all, criminals take advantage of human fears: health and safety, security of their savings. The second type of calls from scammers is an offer of benefits (increased compensation, etc.).
What schemes telephone scammers use:
- call from a bank,
- computer repair/software installation,
- call from the tax office,
- pension and investment fraud,
- fake police calls, etc.
To take the victim by surprise, criminals often call early in the morning. Their main weapons are suddenness, perseverance, an attempt to unsettle a person, to force them to act immediately, without hesitation.
Calls from the bank security service
Fraud on behalf of a bank is one of the most common schemes. The callers act as security officers or managers. They speak professionally and try to convince that:
- money was debited from the account/card,
- the account/card has been blocked,
- the bank has been hacked,
- card/account service conditions have been changed,
- offer a new banking service, etc.
“Bank scammers” ask for account and card details, including the PIN, and even offer to send a courier to pick up the card. They may also advise transferring money to a “safe account”.
The main thing for them is not only to find out the details of the account/card, but also to get the victim to transfer money on their own. In this case, it will be almost impossible to return it.
With the development of various kinds of voice services, automatic notifications, etc., fraudsters use bot calls. For some people, this scheme works more effectively, and for criminals, the use of voice bots is a great opportunity to increase the reach of the scam.
Another technological trick used by scammers is number spoofing. Almost every bank has a recognizable short phone number, which scammers actively use. They call the victim in such a way that the bank number is displayed on the phone screen, although the call comes from another number. Next, we will tell you how to protect yourself from this.
In Europe, where copyright is respected, legal programs are used, and users of pirated software are severely persecuted, fraudsters have found a convenient loophole to get money from the people.
A famous example of this is the “Microsoft scam”, known since 2012. Most often, victims get calls from people who introduce themselves as Microsoft employees in English or in the national language. They make the victim believe that their computer has a problem. However, for a fee of 300-500 euros, they offer to solve it online.
Another scenario is the installation of a supposedly anti-virus program that actually steals users’ personal data, including their financial information.
In 2017, according to the computer crime department of the Belgian Federal Police, an “Indian gang” was suspected of fraud. In December 2022, it was already the Swiss media that wrote about “computer scammers from Microsoft”.
According to GIP Acyma, created under the Ministry of the Interior of France, the level of threat from computer fraud in the first quarter of 2022 decreased slightly, but, according to experts, the number of crimes will increase by the summer.
While these types of phone scams are different, we’ve grouped them together based on the same principle: offering a benefit. The criminals claim that the victim is entitled to compensation, a profitable investment, the ability to dispose of retirement savings, etc. This includes calls about winnings in the lottery, gifts from companies, etc.
Next, a familiar scheme is used: the callers try to get the data of a bank, pension or other account or card.
Pension savings scams are regarded by the authorities of many countries as the most dangerous, since the elderly victims find themselves not only without their livelihood, but also without the opportunity to earn it again.
As part of combating pension fraud, the UK authorities have banned all “cold calling” regarding pensions.
Calls from state and municipal services
To replace messages from scammers saying, “Mom, I’m in trouble. Send me some money”, came calls from fake police officers or representatives of other law enforcement agencies.
In March 2022, the Leipzig police warned about phone scammers who acted as police officers. They claimed that a relative of their victim had caused a serious accident and needed money to avoid jail.
Another scheme is when scammers use various pretexts to call and have the victims transfer the money and valuables in their house or bank to a stranger who also pretends to be a police officer. The fraud is backed up by the already mentioned spoofing of the phone number from which the criminal calls, with an emergency police number or another local number. By trusting the police, people can become victims of such fraud.
Another type of telephone crime is calls from the tax office. The scammers report a problem with a tax refund or unpaid tax bill and ask for personal details to “fix the situation”.
The icing on the cake in the methods of fraud is calls from supposedly charitable organizations that support the victims of such crimes. The dodgers convince their victims that for a certain fee they will continue to be protected from such crimes.
The organizers of such foundations remind that their help is always free.
How to recognize a scammer
We have already mentioned above the techniques that criminals use to confuse the victim: a confident tone, uninterrupted speech to prevent a person from thinking, a constant emphasis on lack of time and a demand to decide quickly, etc.
That is why, as soon as you notice at least one of these features in a conversation, hang up without even trying to explain to yourself or the caller why you are doing this.
It is strictly not recommended to provide any details of a bank account or card, personal account, etc.
How to respond to scammers
If you receive an unexpected call regarding finance, insurance or security, wait until the caller tells you the reason for the call (“I’m from the bank’s security service, money was debited from your card”), but do not engage into a dialogue. Hang up and call the bank/insurance company/police station at a number that you yourself can find in the phone book.
In no case should you call back the phone number from which the suspicious call came, even if it corresponds to the official contacts of the organization: remember about the spoofing of numbers. Dial the number yourself.
What to do if you have been tricked by scammers
First, do not panic and do not try to call their phone number in order to make them morally responsible. Most likely, you will not get through.
It is much more efficient to immediately call the bank or insurance company that you are a customer of, and inform them about what happened. They will do everything possible to prevent financial loss (block the personal or online account, etc.). Then you should write a statement to the police.
Different European countries have their own procedures for the return of funds stolen by fraudsters, here are the French guidelines.
1. As soon as the loss is detected, you must contact your bank or call the interbank server reserved to counter such crimes. It works 24/7 at 0892 705 705. Calls to this server are collect.
2. After a verbal reporting, it is recommended to quickly confirm it by registered mail to the bank where the account linked to the bank card is opened.
You can also report a possible crime online through the Perceval service. To do this, in your personal account on the service-public.fr website through FranceConnect, you must specify your data and the number of the corrupted bank card. Then send the receipt that the service will issue, to the bank.
3. File a complaint directly with the judicial authority by contacting the gendarmerie or police station.
You can file a complaint by mail (regular or registered mail) by contacting the prosecutor directly. The mail must be sent to the court at the place where the offense was committed or at the place of residence. In response, you will get a message from the prosecutor about the registration of the complaint.
As part of the regular procedure, a fraudulent transaction must be reported no later than within 13 months after it is discovered. However, this period may be reduced to 70 days if the payee’s institution is located outside the European Union or the European Economic Area — EEA (Union States, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
4. As soon as the fraud is detected, the bank must immediately reimburse the amount of the unauthorized transaction, as well as any related costs. You do not have to have a specific insurance agreement to benefit from this legal provision.
But you can only claim a refund if the write-off occurred without the participation of the victim (for example, card data was stolen).
Combating phone scammers
The authorities of European countries are taking various measures to counter criminal schemes:
- public informing,
- support hotlines,
- legislative measures.
Almost in all European countries, special services have been created that deal with telephone and cyber fraud, in addition, social movements operate in some countries. The websites of these organizations publish crime statistics and articles that tell how to recognize scammers and how to counter them.
Useful information is also available on the websites of banks and insurance companies. In particular, it is recommended to deal with the spoofing of numbers as follows:
Save in the contact list on your phone the bank number from which you receive notifications of debits and other official information. In this case, when they call you allegedly from a bank, but the displayed number differs from the saved contact, even if it is identical to the bank number, this will mean that criminals are calling you using the number spoofing technology.
Support hotlines are also quite popular. We have already mentioned the interbank server from the French instructions. In the UK, there is a number 7726 (in the spam text layout), to which all suspicious calls should be sent. There is also a fraud alert center for the United Kingdom called Action Fraud, on whose website you will find guidelines in different languages.
In Italy, fraud victims are advised to contact the postal police (Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni), in Poland call a special number 997, in Germany you will need to fill out a form on the website of the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur).
Legislative measures include the following. In the UK, as we have already mentioned, a ban on “cold calling” regarding pension savings has been adopted.
In Spain, as of January 2022, the country’s four leading telephone companies have agreed on a code of conduct to prevent fraud. In particular, they approved a ban on advertising calls from 21:00 pm to 09:00 am and from 15:00 to 16:00, as well as on weekends.
Phone scammers as a danger to migrants
Apart from the elderly, one of the most vulnerable categories are migrants. They do not always know the language well and do not understand the specifics of local laws, so fraud attempts involving fake police or fake tax people can be very effective.
In addition, when sending money transfers to their relatives, they also worry about the safety of the money on the recipient’s side, because often these are elderly parents. To prevent losing money, we recommend reading the tips on the websites of popular banks in the country where your relatives live. In Estonia, this is the Swenbank website, in Kazakhstan, Kaspi banka, etc., and then regularly tell your relatives about possible dangers.
KoronaPay, in its turn, guarantees the safety of all money transfers made in the system. During the entire existence of the service, there has not been a single case of loss of money. All transfers are always delivered to the addressees.
In our blog, we regularly write about emigration to European countries and the specifics of life in the EU, as well as about beneficial money transfers. You can see the topics of all our articles here.