Mon. Oct 18th, 2021

Isle of Wight Observer News

The Island's Free Newspaper

OFCOM’s announcement that caller ID can be faked is particularly worrying

3 min read

‘Working from home’ used to be a bit of a joke; an excuse to get paid for doing very little, a skiver’s charter. The pandemic meant staying home seemed far safer but, last week, I heard a dreadful story that’s given me second thoughts.

Since last year, a friend’s book-keeper cheerfully worked from home but, like many of us, experienced constant internet problems. Exasperated, he tried switching suppliers. Still the broadband came and went; often, there was none at all. He spent hours talking to BT, his provider, trying to resolve the problem. Their help-line is India-based, and at times just understanding what they were saying was difficult. Hours were spent on hold, until the operator gave up trying to fix the broadband and promised to call back. Usually they didn’t, so the whole process began again.
Without reliable internet, home-working is virtually impossible so, reluctantly, a return to the office seemed inevitable. Most of us realise the on-line world is full of people desperate to get hold of our personal details and money, scams are common and thieves get away with millions. In just six months last year, 66,000 of us were tricked in this way. Ofcom’s announcement that caller ID can be faked is particularly worrying – we tend to trust the numbers that call us regularly.

Some years ago, my sister’s neighbour, a serving police officer, was called at home by someone claiming to be ‘security’ from her bank branch. The caller insisted a staff member was ‘under observation’ who, at that very moment, was attempting to steal money from her account. To protect her hard-earned cash, the police officer agreed to move it immediately to the account number the ‘security’ caller claimed she’d set up specifically for the purpose. The caller sounded totally convincing and besides, for an hour, hadn’t asked her to do anything that made her feel uncomfortable. On-line crooks often take their time to build trust and confidence because they know what’s coming – you don’t!

Eventually, the ‘security person’ asked for the transfer to be made quite urgently. Still on the line, she promised to call back with updated information about an arrest, but that call never came. As time passed, the police officer began doubting what she’d done and contacted her local branch, to discover that the £18,000 she’d transferred had gone, never to be seen again.
So back to my pal’s book-keeper: he does a lot of internet banking; it’s routine; most bills are on-line payments. Having had almost daily contact with BT about his awful broadband, he wasn’t surprised when they called him yet again, offering to ‘resolve the matter once and for all’. After an hour and a half of apologies and the usual nonsense, our victim allowed the Indian ‘BT’ caller access to his home computer, ‘just to test the broadband signal strength’. At that point, he was probably doomed because, having allowed access, the caller could see everything about him, including who he banked with. The next steps were relatively simple, a ‘refund for all the inconvenience’ was promised and a transfer attempted, but according to the screen, it failed; more money came in than was promised. The caller apologised and quite reasonably asked for it back. My pal’s business is currently £25,000 worse off. That was the sum stolen.
Please, think about anyone you know who’s working from home; are they safe from this kind of trickery?
To be continued.