One of the many dispiriting by-products of national lockdowns was a sharp rise in scams and fraud.
With internet access providing a literal lifeline throughout the last couple of years, it’s sadly inevitable that fraudsters and criminals have sought to exploit this heightened dependency.
A series of recent press stories has highlighted the lengths scammers will go to in order to trick us.
In Helensburgh, people have been knocking on doors and introducing themselves as employees of Argyll & Bute Council, before asking for £200 to install broadband cabling.
Meanwhile, network builder Freedom Fibre has warned residents in northern England not to let fake engineers into their homes to ‘check for faults’ or ‘perform an installation’.
It’s presumed that having gained the trust of the occupants, the confidence tricksters would either attempt to steal valuables or access computer systems once inside.
In such circumstances, it’s crucial to avoid broadband scams which turn up at your door, as opposed to more conventional phishing and online fraud attempts.
Always approach unsolicited enquiries with suspicion
If an unidentified number rang your phone, and an unfamiliar voice began asking you for account credentials or passwords, your suspicions would probably be aroused straight away.
The same thing ought to happen if someone came to your door, claiming to be doing something you weren’t aware of or asking for information that seems inappropriate or incongruous.
Look up and down the street for liveried vehicles or workmen in branded uniforms which might lend credence to what your doorstep visitor is telling you.
If a team of workmen started digging up the pavement outside your house that morning, there’s a fair chance your cold caller could be here legitimately.
If there’s no signs of activity, inspect any credentials closely. Fake ID cards aren’t hard to manufacture, but they’re often easy to debunk if you scrutinise them.
Consider if the visitor’s story is plausible. Why would consumer champion Martin Lewis be paying people to knock on doors and ask strangers about their broadband speeds?
This very occurrence was reported to police recently. Criminals will often use a celebrity’s name in an attempt to build trust, though usually via phishing email scams rather than in person.
Never provide sensitive information
Online scammers often inject a sense of urgency to rush people into providing information they wouldn’t surrender if they had time to reflect. Real-world criminals may do the same.
Ignore any nonsense about potential gas leaks or dangers posed by broadband-related activities. Fibre cables are heavily insulated and buried deep underground.
Telephone lines also pose no risk to the public, which is the only other way cabled internet connectivity can extend into your home.
Under no circumstances provide a stranger at your door with billing documentation, passwords, account details or personal information like your name or contact details.
This data could be used to fraudulently purchase goods or services in your name, so it’s especially important to avoid broadband scams aimed at acquiring personal information.
Call their bluff
If someone arrives at your door claiming to be from an ISP, ask them to wait while you phone the ISP on your mobile.
Unless they’re visiting you legitimately, they’ll realise their story is about to be exposed and almost certainly flee the scene.
In the unlikely scenario that they become aggressive or intimidating at this point, threatening to call the police (or actually doing so) should hasten their departure.
Don’t attempt to photograph or film them unless you have other people around for protection, but do pay close attention to their appearance and clothing, their accent and what they say.
Detailed descriptions will help the police with any subsequent investigation, as well as helping the local media to prevent future incidents by publishing stories about this scam.
Publicity is the best weapon against doorstep scammers, giving consumers sufficient information to differentiate genuine or scheduled visitors from unsolicited fraudsters.
On a related note, our guide to staying safe online is essential reading for anyone who wants to avoid broadband scams distributed via the internet.