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UK authorities announce restrictions on mass texting and cold calling

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Ministers have announced a clampdown on the use of cold calls to sell financial products and on technology which allows mass texting of numerous phones as part of a strategy to combat fraud, now the UK’s most common crime.

The new fraud strategy, a response to the massive growth of web- and phone-based scams, will alsoresult in what was billed as 400 new specialist investigators across police and the National Crime Agency recruited as part of a revamp for how the the crime is investigated.

Another element of the plan will see banks permitted to delay payments being processed for longer, so suspicious payments can be properly investigated.

Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP and former head of the British Bankers’ Association, who is being made the government’s anti-fraud champion, said there was a particular onus on tech, phone and financial services companies to do more to prevent fraud.

All social media companies will be asked to provide systems whereby people can find a “report” button with one click, and then “report fraud or scam” with one more.

Led by the Home Office, the strategy is aimed to tackle an offence estimated to cost the UK economy about £7bn annually, with a focus on investigators tracking down mass fraud operations.

As part of this, there will be an outright ban on cold-call telephone sales for any financial products, and a commitment to work with Ofcom to stop so-called spoofing, in which fraudsters can seem as if they are calling from a legitimate UK numbers.

Another ban will outlaw what are known as sim farms, also known as GSM gateways, in which large numbers of phone sim cards can be loaded and used to send numerous scam texts at the same time.

On the consumer side of the problem, the current Action Fraud service for reporting offences will be replaced by a new portal, intended to reduce waiting times for calls and allow easier reporting of offences online.

With many fraud schemes originating or operating from outside the UK, the intelligence services will take action to try and combat these.

There will also be a review into how fraud offences can be better and more speedily investigated and prosecuted, in part to ensure sentences “match the severity of the impact on victims”.

Helena Wood, co-head of the UK economic crime programme at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank, said more needed to be done: “Although the strategy includes extra resources for policing fraud, these levels are not commensurate to the scale of the threat.

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“They are certainly not enough to turn around decades of under-investment in the enforcement response to the crime affecting more British citizens than any other.”

Browne said fraud was “causing financial and emotional distress to millions of people”, and needed to be a greater priority for companies.

He said: “The tech sector, phone companies and financial services firms must take responsibility for protecting their users by stopping fraud happening in the first place, and work together to design out fraud. We can use the technologies fraudsters are exploiting against them to stop them in their tracks, and I will work with industry to make sure that happens.”

As part of this, there will be a consultation on how to publish data on how much fraudulent content is hosted on different websites and platforms.

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