Warning over criminals using digital switchover to scam vulnerable residents

Criminals are exploiting the analogue to digital switchover to scam vulnerable residents who use health care telephony devices into giving out personal information such as bank details, councils have warned.

Around 1.8 million people use the devices nationally, but services that rely on the old landline system are being switched over to new upgraded landline services using digital technology.

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The Local Government Association, which represents councils, expressed concerns that the transition has created new opportunities for criminals to target vulnerable residents, for example using phishing emails, fake websites or phone calls to trick them into providing personal information.

It warned that scams could increase as the 2025 switchover date approaches, following a series of recent reports whereby criminals call residents with health care devices claiming they need to hand over bank details as part of the switchover or else be disconnected.

The digital switchover is free and councils and home care alarm providers will never ask for personal or financial details over the phone.

In Halton, residents have seen an increase in scam telephone calls about health care devices. In some instances, the caller claims to be working for the NHS and asks the call recipients – primarily older people – for their personal details. Following these reports, Halton Borough Council Trading Standards team sent out alerts to residents raising awareness of the scam and officers supported victims by visiting them to provide advice and support.

Staffordshire County Council has installed 155 call blockers in vulnerable people’s homes, with a further 51 to follow, to safeguard residents from becoming the victims of scams or fraud. To make it easy for residents to access this technology, the council has built a simplified online call blocker application form.

While the public switched telephone network (PSTN) upgrade is an industry-led process, the LGA also called on the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to coordinate the multiple bodies involved with the switchover and raise awareness to ensure residents are prepared.

Heather Kidd, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said: ‘We are very concerned by a rise in criminals taking advantage of the digital switchover to trick vulnerable residents into giving out personal information such as their bank details. As the digital switchover date approaches, sadly we fear that further cases will arise.

‘Councils will always act swiftly with the police where any incidents are reported, but we also urge people to be vigilant and help to raise awareness of this crime.

‘The digital switchover is free of charge and residents should be aware that councils and their home care alarm providers or contractors will never ask for personal or financial information over the phone.’

Image: Lindsey LaMont

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