Financial planner Mel Kenny was cold called while dealing with his dead mother’s estate
Bereaved Britons have been urged to be on their guard against scammers after a financial planner and one of his clients were cold called while dealing with the affairs of deceased relatives.
Mel Kenny, 48, from North London, who works at the firm Radcliffe & Newlands, saw his deceased’s mother’s landline called twice in the hours after he officially registered her death with the Government’s ‘Tell Us Once’ service late last November.
The same thing had happened to one of his clients earlier in the summer, who reported she had received an increase in scam calls after registering her husband’s death with the service.
‘PayPal, LinkedIn and Equifax all claimed to be reporting suspicious activities on accounts he never had’, Mel told This is Money.
‘Her husband never touched a PC once he retired in 2013 and never had accounts with any of those companies.’
He added: ‘Her landline phone number has also had an increase in scam BT, Microsoft, and Amazon Prime calls but not relating specifically to her deceased husband.’
Meanwhile, Mel said of his own case: ‘There were two calls to my mother’s landline in the two hours following submission.
‘One was automated and the other was from a person who was very well-spoken informing me of the need to renew annual appliance insurance that she never had which I was not going to fall for, but many would.’
He added: ‘Unusually, he handled objection after objection very clearly. When I said that I only deal with matters in the post, he said they only deal with matters over the phone during the pandemic.
‘Having then looked up the number, it was confirmed to be a number of a scammer.’
The Tell Us Once service allows Britons to report a death to most Government organisations in one go, including HMRC, the Department for Work and Pensions, Passport Office, DVLA and local councils.
Those making a submission often need to provide the deceased’s date of birth, National Insurance number, driving licence number, vehicle registration number and date of death.
They may also need details of the next of kin, executor and any benefits or local council services the deceased was receiving.
There is no suggestion the service, which many more people will have been using in the last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, has been compromised, with its security described as ‘Fort Knox-esque’.
The Government would also have been required to report any data breach to the Information Commissioners’ Office and no such report has been made.
Complaints about cold callers have spiked during lockdown
But cold calls and other scams at such a time could be particularly devastating, with victims expecting to receive contact from companies and other organisations following the death of a loved one.
‘More than ever, it is important that they confide in a friend or relative before committing to any financial decisions no matter how small’, Mel added, ‘as a scammer sees small openings as a way to open up a potential treasure trove.
‘It would not surprise me if scams are either being carried out following bereavement unnoticed as the victim might not know any better, or, if someone realises they have been scammed, keep it quiet at an already difficult time.’
Cold calls and scams have spiked during the pandemic, with criminals seeking to cash in on the fact many potential victims are stuck at home and potentially isolated.
Scam calls pretending to be from Amazon were the most numerous, according to reporting by our sister title the Mail on Sunday published last December.
And although not scams, the ICO has handed out £750,000 in fines to companies for making nuisance marketing calls in the first two months of this year. Some 103,733 nuisance calls were reported to the ICO last year, with a further 11,463 this January.
Paul Davis, retail fraud director at Lloyds Bank, said the cases of Mel and his client had ‘all the key red flags of an impersonation scam.’
He said: ‘Fraudsters are always looking for a different disguise to make it easier to trick people – anything that they might strike it lucky with, and pretending to be from banks, service providers, government or big brands is all part of the bluff.
‘If a text or a caller is trying to rush you into handing over details or making a payment by saying your account is at risk and asking you to move money to another account, this should be a big flashing red light that it’s definitely a scam.’
David Emm, a researcher at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, added: ‘Personal information is of great value to cybercriminals.
‘This applies to banking credentials and other financial information that can be used to steal money directly. But it’s also true of other personal data.
‘Criminals can use personal information to commit ID theft – for example, for Sim-swap fraud – where they masquerade as a legitimate person and use their personal information to trick a network provider into porting someone’s number to a new Sim card. And it can be used in social engineering attacks – to lend credibility to phishing messages.’
He added: ‘That’s why it’s so important that we all use unique, complex passwords to protect our online accounts – or use a password manager to take the headache out of doing this.
‘It’s also why it’s vital to enable two-factor authentication where an online provider offers this – in this case, someone wishing to take over your account would require not just your normal password, but also the one-time authentication code issued for each particular login.’
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