Following an increase in the variety of phone scams being reported by Scottish consumers since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trading Standards Scotland is launching the roll out of free call blocking devices to vulnerable individuals who are most at risk from scammers and rogue traders.

The Scottish Government has provided £60,000 in addition to £20,000 funding from Trading Standards Scotland (TSS) to procure 725 trueCall call blocking devices which are available free of charge from today (8th March).

The dissemination of call blocking devices supports the development of the scams prevention strategy currently being developed by the Scottish Government and partners including TSS. TSS will be working with the other partners involved in the strategy throughout the dissemination process and will be reaching out to charities and other groups working with vulnerable people.

To coincide with the launch of the call blocker dissemination programme, Trading Standards Scotland have published a list of the top ten nuisance calls which have been reported by Scottish consumers since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020.

The most common types of scam call being blocked by trueCall units were misleading sales of insurance for white goods, appliances or SKY equipment and attempts to sell cover for domestic home repairs.

As more people signed up to streaming services during lockdown, there was an increase in scam calls purportedly from Amazon Prime, where cold callers said that the recipient’s subscription was due for renewal or that their account had been hacked.  Another type of nuisance call which emerged towards the end of 2020 was the sale of timeshares, possibly in response to widespread issues with travel and accommodation during the pandemic.

The aim of the majority of scam and nuisance calls is to obtain people’s personal data and to encourage them to give the caller their bank details. This is often achieved by implying that urgent action is required – a tactic which particularly targets elderly and more vulnerable people.

In 2020, with match funding from the Scottish Government, TSS was able to allocate 281 call blocking devices to vulnerable individuals. The majority of those who received devices had previously been the victim of scam calls, with around a third reporting that they had lost money to a phone scam. On average, those who applied to receive a device were receiving up to 7 unsolicited calls every day.

Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said:

“Scammers and organised crime groups seeking to take advantage of lockdown is totally unacceptable and that’s why we are acting to address the situation.

“It is often elderly and vulnerable members of society who are targeted and the use of call blockers will be a key tool to help protect them from scammers and rogue traders. It is now more important than ever that we are aware of potential scams and take steps to help protect people.

“I urge anyone who feels they or a loved one would benefit from a call blocker to apply for a free device.”

Councillor Kelly Parry, Chair of Trading Standards Scotland’s Governance Board said:

“Scammers and unscrupulous businesses have taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to target people with an increasing variety of phone scams. We have seen many new scams emerge during the pandemic and, at a challenging time when more people are isolated, the risk from scammers is even higher.

“Although we are all susceptible to being scammed, people with cognitive impairment such as dementia, mobility issues, mental health issues and those on the autism spectrum are most at risk. Not only does it cause financial detriment; it erodes their self-esteem and self-belief and can cause significant levels of stress and anxiety. By blocking scam calls we can give vulnerable people confidence and peace of mind and help them to continue to live independently for as long as possible.”

Apply for a call blocker here and find out more about the programme here.