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Never ever respond to a cold call

Photo of a cold call taking place

Whenever you receive a cold call, an unsolicited marketing email, or an offer from a company you’ve never done business with – hang up, delete it, or throw it in the bin.

This strategy will save you from the majority of frauds. It will also improve your life.

I’m sorry if your job is to cold call strangers to tell them about genuine investment opportunities. Or charity drives. Or alumni fund raises.

These things do exist.

But life is simpler and safer if you presume they don’t.

Just hang up.

Cold call as ice

As an on/off fan of Radio 4’s Moneybox over the years, I’ve heard about far more scams, frauds, hucksterism, and shysters than I’ve seen in real-life.

And most – close to all – the schemes that undo the victims start with a cold call. Or a knock at the door. Very occasionally a supposedly random meeting (say with a timeshare pitch at a holiday resort).

Here’s a typical example from Which?:

Member Robert lost £65,000 to fraudsters claiming to represent a firm called TD Global Finance in July 2020.

‘A man phoned and said he was from TD Global. He rattled off a shortlist of familiar-sounding firms and offered to send me an email and prospectus. He said he’d call again in a week, which put me at ease, as scammers try to rush you. The email linked to a professional website. I checked the FCA register and saw TD Global is regulated.’

Robert later discovered that the very convincing website – tdglobalfinance. co. uk – was a clone. Unhelpfully, the real company has no website listed on the FCA register so nothing seemed awry when he checked this.

Robert ended up transferring money in batches, both over the telephone and at his local Halifax branch. He was taken through security in a private room at the bank, during which he explained he was investing in TD Global and showed staff the ‘invoice’ he had been sent.

He was handed a scams pamphlet and warned about cold calls, but no alarms were raised. An FCA warning about a clone of TD Global Finance appeared shortly after the final transfer to the fraudsters.

Horrified, he immediately told the police and his bank. Halifax returned £30,000 but refused to reimburse the rest, stating that Robert had ‘failed to make sufficient checks’ before investing.

Which?, 28 April 2021

Why would anyone respond to a cold call when there are dozens of legitimate investing platforms a mouse click away?

Why would someone think they were being pitched an incredible investment opportunity by a total stranger?

Funky cold calling Medina

It’s easy to mock or despair at such victims.

But firstly, let’s remember they are just that – victims. They’ve been done over by crooks who prey on the better aspects of our nature, such as trust. Victims deserve our sympathy.

Also, scams happen so often there’s obviously something else going on.

Sure, many of the victims are in the vulnerable elder who is out of their depth category. People who rip them off are morally bankrupt pond detritus. (They should really be working in the City – badoom tish!)

But I’ve noticed many of the victims that we hear about seem to be retired company directors or other high-flyers.

Partly that’s because they have the money to steal, no doubt.

Also director details have long been trivially harvested from Companies House.

But I suspect it’s also because in their professional life such people were used to being pitched by suppliers, vendors, and other industry sorts.

So a cold call for them doesn’t trigger the alarm bells that it would for me.

(In my case, picture a klaxon wailing and blue and red lights flashing in an underground bunker at the merest hint of a butt-dial.)

Smart and accomplished people can be prone to over-confidence, too. They may even be experienced in evaluating investments and other opportunities.

But such experience counts for nowt when you’re assessing a scam as if it’s legitimate.

Brains isn’t enough to avoid scams. One recent survey found that 62% of investment fraud victims had a four-year or longer college education.

And blowing the ‘poor grannie’ stereotype out of the water – at least when it comes to the targets of investment scammers – 81% were male. Men have a proven tendency to be over-confident compared to women.

That same survey also found nearly 60% of the victims received at least one investment cold call a month.

Is it any wonder that eventually a scammer got through?

Baby it’s a cold call outside

You might still be thinking that you can tell a fraud from a legitimate pitch.

Or that you’ll know a boiler room con or a scripted scam when you hear it.

Maybe you work for the police or MI5, or you’re a fraudster who can sniff out a fraudster.

Maybe you’re great at reading poker bluffs.

So sure, maybe you can tell a dodgy cold call from a real sales approach.

I like to think I could, too.

But why bother? What’s in it for you or me?

I’m an investing junkie who has read countless money and investing books.

I can’t remember a single one where a person got rich because someone cold called them on Saturday afternoon to take up five minutes of their (oh they understand!) precious time.

Don’t bother. Hang up on as soon as you know you don’t know them.

Thank you! Goodbye. Hang up.

That’s it.

If this isn’t already your policy when you get a cold call then this might just be the most valuable article you’ll ever read on Monevator.

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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • 1 Jon May 6, 2021, 1:28 pm

    Reminds me of this terrific sketch..
    Anyone else a fan of Julie Nolke?…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqBRyuljjF4

  • 2 Jam May 6, 2021, 1:56 pm

    It is worth adding that scammers will often spoof their telephone number to make it look like they are calling from a legitimate firm.

    So for example, just because your caller-id says that your bank is calling, that is not necessarily the case, it could still be scammers.

  • 3 steven21020 May 6, 2021, 2:39 pm

    What always makes me laugh are the cases where a ‘bank’ phones someone and makes them go through a security process. I’m sure it catches some people out though. My mum is 85 and very savvy, checks the number before answering, then, if she does answer, is very polite but firmly tells them no. We have a habit of never answering the house phone before 7pm – when cold calls should stop. Everyone who knows us will use Whatsapp, SMS text, or at least warn us that they are calling the house phone.
    But I was once caught out, many years ago. A spoof email from Paypal. I was very busy and logged in etc, to do what they wanted, then twigged a few days later. No damage. Just that I now have a very suspicious mind.
    PS Now, my mum is complaining about the security hoops I make her jump through to speak to me. 🙂

  • 4 Tyro May 6, 2021, 2:55 pm

    What I can’t understand is how people might believe their bank – the organisation in control of their accounts – would need to phone them, the account-holder, to ask them to close one account and open another, instead of the bank just doing it. The media often reports people’s accounts being shut down by their bank for no apparent reason, so you’d think it would occur to people that the bank could itself close their account if there really was a problem that necessitated the account be closed and the money transferred to a new one.

  • 5 PC May 6, 2021, 3:32 pm

    I once had a really convincing call from someone claiming to be HMRC, they had a number of details and appeared to be calling from a genuine HMRC number.

    What saved me was insisting on calling back on a number I looked up myself. HMRC had not been trying to contact me, although they said the number the caller used was one of theirs. I only very recently discovered that caller ID can easily be spoofed.

  • 6 MrOptimistic May 6, 2021, 4:17 pm

    Had a crew trying to sell me pink diamonds a few years back. Very very persistent.

  • 7 AJ May 6, 2021, 6:46 pm

    Telephone networks are not particularly secure. SMS is not secure. The signalling system (SS7) has been exploited in the past to intercept texts and calls. Telecoms companies can be pretty lax about transferring numbers or issuing replacement SIMs to people who con customer service reps with a good tale.

    Over the past year a number of institutions rolled out SMS for two-factor authentication. It’s like they waited until it was proven to be a bad idea before they forced it on customers.

    I’d rant some more, but I’m in trouble with BT, Microsoft, HMRC, the IRS and the FBI according to some robocalls and I need to sort that out.

  • 8 Tom-Baker Dr Who May 6, 2021, 7:01 pm

    These days, when I get a cold call I tell them that they’ve called ‘The Hedgehog and The Fox’ and that our beer garden is fully booked until the end of May.

  • 9 Accidentally Retired May 6, 2021, 7:16 pm

    I have a rule: never answer the phone. Anyone who actually wants to hear from me, will leave a message and it is never the cold callers.

    The irony though, is that my grandfather built his entire career and business from cold calling, so I have to give it some props, but these days marketing should be much more permission based. I want you to be looking for my products, not me pushing some random product on you…

  • 10 NearlyThere May 6, 2021, 7:27 pm

    Scammers are the most successful salespeople around. They can afford to invest far more into closing a deal than average salespeople because they have incredible commissions and profit margins. Of course they are convincing, they have to be because they have nothing to offer. When BT scam a silver surfer into hyper fast gaming broadband they are at least providing a real service, even if it is something not needed. Scammers don’t deliver even that.
    One of my tricks is to answer the phone but say nothing. Genuine callers tend to say “Hello? Anyone there?” but scammers tend not to… which makes it a ‘silent call’ and reportable to Ofcom – who seem to take silent calls far more seriously than the ICO takes scam calls. Fewer than 1 in 1,000 scam calls get reported, it seems. So I’d say hang up, then report it to ICO or Ofcom as appropriate. If the authorities don’t know about the calls then they won’t do anything about them.

  • 11 steveark May 6, 2021, 8:07 pm

    I had a high profile career and then a high profile consulting gig so I’m known by a lot of people whose name I do not recognize. They often have a business card or have gotten my name from a contact so I usually will take a cold call from them because they may be offering me an attractive piece of work or a good volunteer opportunity. I can tell pretty quickly if it is a scam. Just yesterday I got a call from an expert witness recruiter, but I did not know them. However after a brief conversation it was clear they were legit. I’ll probably land a very attractive little project from taking the call. So I think it depends on your circumstances. If you do risk taking a cold call, I strongly agree you better have your radar up and running. The vast majority of them are just scams looking for a victim. Good post!

  • 12 BeardyBillionaireBloke May 6, 2021, 8:40 pm

    @Tom-Baker Dr Who

    ‘The Hedgehog and The Fox’ … is it in Berlin ?
    I am not Fed Bone … I have my name only once on page ix.

  • 13 Griff May 6, 2021, 9:03 pm

    Bring back hanging. Robbing thieving xxxxxx. I despise them. As for saying no thank you, it’s a pity I’ve been brought up to say thank you and please. You are actually offering pleasantries to low lifes. Find them and lock them up

  • 14 Tom-Baker Dr Who May 6, 2021, 11:14 pm

    @BeardyBillionaireBloke – Well spotted! Berlin indeed: Isaiah Berlin.

    BTW, applying that book to investing, I think we can say that a good investor must be mostly a hedgehog (you have to know one thing very well: to diversify) but also a bit of a fox (you need to have many special tricks).

  • 15 Matthew May 7, 2021, 6:13 am

    Also for emails you should check the sender’s email, I get the fake TV licence emails but their sender address is gobbeldygook.

    A legit caller will be ok if you take their name and call back the company yourself, do it from a different phone so they’re not still listening in after you hang up (they can do that).
    A call that you did not initiate is immediately suspicious. I nearly fell for one claiming to be Talktalk because I just so happened to have reported a problem with my line at the time.

    In some of the communities where these scammers live they are actually looked up to because they bring money into their community which might otherwise be very poor.

    A friend of mine had this;
    “We’re phoning about the accident you had”
    -“Oh yes it was very bad”
    “Were you hurt?”
    -“Very badly, in fact it killed me”
    “?”
    -“It’s my ghost you’re speaking to! “

  • 16 Xenobyte May 7, 2021, 8:23 am

    I’ve been trying to transfer a S&S ISA from Halifax for the last 3 months. I haven’t received a single confirmation email, text, call or letter from them. I can only contact them via phone, but give up after 40 mintes on hold. If a scammer claiming to be from Halfiax called me I would embrace them with open arms!

  • 17 BerkshirePat May 7, 2021, 9:28 am

    All the calls on my landline are scams these days. I am not exaggerating. I use my mobile for everything and nobody knows the landline number – it’s part of my broadband package. The only genuine call I’ve had was from the Environment Agency re flood warnings

  • 18 Matthew May 7, 2021, 9:32 am

    I answer my landline as Battersea Dogs home, which is confusion that the scammers aren’t expecting

  • 19 EcoMiser May 7, 2021, 11:19 am

    @steven21020 (#3) I’ve had (probably) genuine calls from my bank wanting to go through security. My response is, you called me, I confirmed my name, now how can you prove who you are.

  • 20 Greg May 7, 2021, 11:38 am

    If you want some revenge justice, there’s an interesting series of videos by a greyhat hacker called “Jim Browning”, who baits them.

    It’s actually quite enthralling – I certainly didn’t think I’d watch an hour of some guy interacting with “Microsoft” call centre scammers, but I did!
    e.g. here’s one of his entrapments – it’s remarkable the effort he puts in and how deep he manages to go! I have a feeling this is the one that led to a Panorama investigation:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le71yVPh4uk&list=PLBNmQJqxpaMaxqghShRiOnHUjO00ZCsor

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Browning_(YouTuber)

    P.S. I used to comment here much more, years ago, but my life is much busier now so I never make the time. I’m still a big fan! Thanks for all the hard work!

  • 21 PC May 7, 2021, 11:38 am

    @EcoMiser I’ve had that too .. usually the fraud department checking if a transaction is genuine .. they should know better ..

    I always tell them I can’t be sure they are genuine and call them myself

  • 22 Factor May 7, 2021, 1:42 pm

    For my landline, I use the BT 1572 Call Protect service which allows me to route any iffy calls to my personal black list, and which then categorises all further calls from the same number as “junk” and silently “bins” them, without the need for any further intervention from me. There is a capacity limit for the black list, which I occasionally need to manage, but IMO that is a small “price” to have to pay.

  • 23 Gizzard May 7, 2021, 8:30 pm

    I got a random phone call today where some strange woman asked about me having had an accident in the last three years. I don’t know which of my mates grassed me up, or maybe someone spotted me throwing the trousers over the garden wall, but calling me up about it is bang out of order.

  • 24 Jason May 7, 2021, 10:30 pm

    When I get a cold call and they get to the part of their script when they say ‘How are you today?’, I now always answer with ‘Awful’ and then make something up like ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with Covid for a second time’. They always hang up. I’ve yet to have anyone try to continue the conversation, I believe that this isn’t on their script so they have to give up.

    Give it a try and see if I’m right or wrong!!!

  • 25 Gentleman's+Family+Finances May 8, 2021, 8:21 am

    Depending on my mood, I enjoy wasting scam callers time – but maybe instead of getting removed from their call list as I request, they put me on a “punish this a$$hole”.
    My mother gets calls pretty much daily and has in the past transferred all of her cash to a “safe account ” on the advice of a scammer. A non tech savvy widower in her 70s with potentially 10s of thousand of pounds in cash is their ideal mark.

  • 26 Al Cam May 8, 2021, 9:33 am

    @GFF (#25):
    Re: “punish this a$$hole”
    This does happen and in my experience is definitely best avoided!

  • 27 Nearlyrich May 8, 2021, 10:51 am

    @NearlyThere… but we never quite make it do we? A blessing for the NearlyDied family of course.

    My favourite was ” hang on I’ll just get her (him)” and never return. They tend to be wise to it these days sadly.

  • 28 mick May 8, 2021, 11:00 am

    My top tip is to deliberately give a wrong answer to any questions, especially of the type like ‘what is your favourite food’ used to identify yourself. A genuine organization will know you’ve given the wrong answer, and you’ll get another attempt. Scammers don’t know what the real answer is, so will just carry on with their scamming.

  • 29 Matthew May 8, 2021, 11:11 am

    If they want computer/bank access spam them with technical problems and idiocy – (take forever) “computers just showing a black screen” (oh its not plugged in, then turn on tv instead “it says wrong password and now Im locked out” “now its come up with a blue screen and error code” “oh it says I’m not signed up for internet banking”, “the powers just cut out” “it says its rebooting and needs to do a scan” and “it says its got to install windows updates” “its just restarting again to install those updates”

    and also “well it’s not connecting at all because its got those internet problems you said about”

  • 30 bob May 8, 2021, 2:04 pm

    On a similar vein to Greg’s Youtube link. There is a website and a considerable following devoted to “scamming the scammers”.

    Their exploits are detailed here:

    https://www.419eater.com/html/letters.htm

  • 31 Dividend Power May 21, 2021, 2:58 pm

    I stopped answering my phone years ago unless I know who is calling.

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