Six tricks scammers use to con you on the phone

When asked to rank factors that make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone, the most popular was sounding like a nice person. Photograph: PA
When asked to rank factors that make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone, the most popular was sounding like a nice person. Photograph: PA
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If someone calling you out of the blue sounded like a “nice person”, would you be more likely to trust them? If the answer is yes, you could be falling straight into a fraudster’s trap.

Here is how you can spot the sneaky tricks fraudsters are using to gain people’s trust and con them into handing over personal details such as passwords and Pin numbers.

Last year, about £2 million was lost every day to financial fraud – and with banks continuously investing in security systems to thwart fraudsters, criminals are turning to old-fashioned methods to trick people into voluntarily handing over their personal details or even transferring cash directly into their bank account.

They will simply call their intended victim up and persuade them to hand over this information.

Financial Fraud Action UK (FFA UK), which works to fight financial fraud, has been working with a speech pattern analyst, who found common patterns in the language fraudsters will use to try to gain people’s trust.

Dr Paul Breen found six patterns by listening to real-life scam phone calls.

The findings were released as part of FFA UK’s Take Five campaign against financial fraud, which is backed by major banks and key financial services providers in the UK and encourages people to pause for thought before doing something they might later regret.

Here are the six language tricks he found:

1. Con artists will use snippets of information about you, gathered together from different sources, to sound like they know what they’re talking about.

2. They will create a false balance of power by using apologetic language for taking up your time to make you feel sympathetic towards them.

3. They will stay patient as they continue to build up layers of seeming authenticity until you’re convinced they’re legitimate.

4. Fraudsters may pose as someone in authority such as a fraud detection manager or a police officer investigating an ongoing crime.

5. On the whole, people claim to be cautious of trusting strangers without meeting them – one in three claim to “never really trust anyone’’ when speaking over the phone – but the analysis suggests fraudsters are well-prepared to get this reaction. Contrary to what might be expected, fraudsters may welcome your scepticism. But they will turn it into a weakness, by acknowledging your concerns about being security conscious.

6. A sign of a con may be the caller switching tempo and increasing or decreasing the pressure by creating a false sense of urgency or using understanding language.

Research from FFA UK found the top three factors which would make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone are among the common tricks Breen found were used by fraudsters. When asked to rank factors that make us more likely to trust a stranger over the phone, the most popular was “sounding like a nice person’’, chosen by 46 per cent of people.

This was followed by “sounding like they know what they’re talking about’’, chosen by 42 per cent, while 30 per cent listed “offering to help with a problem’’.

So if you find yourself on the phone to a stranger, remember that the Take Five campaign says you should never disclose security details. If in doubt, put the phone down.