Do ISPs need to do more to protect their users from scams?

Are Britain’s internet service providers (ISPs) coming up short when it comes to helping their less tech-savvy users protect themselves against the scourge of telephone scams and online fraud?

In a shocking breach of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, the answer is actually yes. But keep reading anyway.

Now we’ve cleared that up, some explanation, I pose the question because TalkTalk, which runs its own anti-fraud campaign called Beat the Scammers, has just published a set of stats, collated in partnership with Action Fraud, shedding some light on the extent of the problem.

TalkTalk’s data show that in the two year period between October 2015 and September 2017, the five most common online scams in the UK hit over 130,000 people, and those are just the cases that were reported to the police.

Online shopping and auction fraud, where products are misrepresented or never arrive, while the merchants vanish without a trace, was the most prevalent type, with 66,874 cases reported during the monitored period.

Computer service fraud – calls from bogus tech support teams, hit 45,713 people, while email and social media hacks hit 9,473, personal computer hacks, often through phishing emails, hit 6,004, and extortion, where personal data is effectively held to ransom, 1,850.

People in London were the most frequently targeted marks for online fraudsters, where the Met police reported over 20,000 cases, way ahead of their colleagues in West Mercia (Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire), which only had 9,043 reports.

Meanwhile, the people of Essex and West Yorkshire emerged as the least easily fooled, with only 3,956 and 3,894 cases being reported in these jurisdictions – although a cynic, which I am, might point out that because unreported cases obviously weren’t taken into account, the good folk of Basildon and Bradford might just be too proud to admit it.

Donna Moore, who happily is TalkTalk’s head of scam prevention, believes it is the ISP’s responsibility to take on the role of education, which is just as well, otherwise I wouldn’t fancy her chances in her next appraisal.

“We launched our Beat the Scammers education and awareness campaign in 2016 and have continuously improved our service, encouraging our customers to activate our protection tools, completely free of charge,” she said.

“Such tools include CallSafe, which provides customers with a simple way to avoid unwanted calls and enhance their call security. Furthermore, we’re proactively blocking over 700 million unwanted calls a year, and we continue to safeguard customers with the TalkTalk Nevers – a set of guidelines outlining information we will never ask customers for.”

But of course, every good ISP story has to have ISPs throwing shade at other ISPs, so TalkTalk offered some helpful (to TalkTalk) comparisons. Its own CallSafe service includes a number of features that rivals BT and Sky are missing, including unlimited number blocking and whitelisting, feature activation through handsets, and automatic addition of frequently called numbers to an approved list. BT also lacks a screening service and options to accept or reject callers, while Virgin Media, claimed TalkTalk, offers no call blocking features at all.

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