Ofcom aims to block foreign scam calls for good

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UK communications providers have agreed to block VoIP calls made from abroad if they claim to be from a UK number under new plans from Ofcom to battle the rising number of fraudulent calls.

The regulator recently revealed that 45 million people had been targeted by a suspicious call or text over the summer and it believes that part of the problem is the ease at which scammers can make it look like they are calling from a British phone number.

The use of a UK-based number helps provide the pretence of legitimacy and makes it more likely that a scam will be successful.

Scam call networks

According to The Telegraph, the regulator wants operators to implement protection measures as a matter of urgency, believing that such action will significantly reduce the volume of fraudulent communications. Under the plans, the only UK numbers that wouldn’t be blocked would be anyone roaming from abroad on a British phone and verified call centres.

It is said that one operator has already enabled the capability while others are still exploring technical solutions.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for using VoIP. International calls made using Internet services are popular because they are often cheaper than analogue phone systems, while the shift to hybrid working necessitated by the pandemic has driven adoption of platforms like Microsoft Teams.

Some businesses use VoIP systems so they can have a local landline number even when using a mobile phone to inspire confidence in customers and others have virtual receptionist services.

Although potential discrimination against such use cases has been acknowledged by some observers, Ofcom believes the technology makes it easy to stage large-scale scams and that its action will prevent hundreds of millions of calls a year.

“Tackling this complex problem requires a coordinated effort from the police, Government, other regulators and industry,” Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom's Networks and Communications Group Director is quoted as saying.

“We’ve been working with telecoms companies to implement technical solutions, including blocking at source, suspicious international calls that are masked by a UK number. We expect these measures to be introduced as a priority, and at pace, to ensure customers are better protected.”

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.