A guidance note for councils on how to raise awareness among residents, and prevent and disrupt anyone from using the digital switchover as a means to advance criminal activity.
The UK’s telephone network is changing. Between now and 2025 most telephone providers will be moving their customers from old analogue landlines over to new upgraded landline services using digital technology. The new network will provide a future proof, more reliable and dependable broadband service that will support the UK for decades to come. This means services that rely on the old landline system such as home phones and healthcare devices will be switched over.
The transition from analogue to digital technologies has created new opportunities for criminals to target vulnerable residents. For example, criminals may use phishing emails, fake websites, or phone calls to trick residents into providing personal information, such as bank account details or passwords.
This information can then be used to steal money or commit identity theft. There is also the potential for increases in criminality through rogue traders selling equipment, charging for unnecessary work, or trying to pressurise vulnerable members of the community into new contracts related to the digital switchover.
Around 1.8 million people use health care devices nationally, and we are concerned that reports of scams will increase as the 2025 switchover date approaches. This document suggests some recommended actions that councils can take to raise awareness amongst residents, and to prevent and disrupt anyone from using the digital switchover as a means to advance criminal activity.
Ensure frontline staff are aware of the digital switchover and understand how to report concerns
If frontline staff become aware of a resident who they believe has been the victim of fraud or a scam related to the digital switchover, they should treat it as a safeguarding concern.
Council staff should ensure they advise residents, their next of kin or power of attorney to contact their bank immediately if their bank account was used in a scam, as banks may be able to take action to help them.
Council staff should also encourage residents to report any scams or fraudulent activity to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via their website.
Report potential scams or fraud to trading standards
If council staff hear reports of digital switchover scams/fraud taking place, it is good practice to report them to their local trading standards team in the first instance, and to the National Trading Standards Scams Team who may then be able to undertake enforcement action.
The National Trading Standards Scams Team undertake enquiries into mass marketing fraud, involving the use of mail and telephone and can use a variety of methods to disrupt scammers, such as removing bank accounts or their ability to print materials. Email the team to report cases.
Councils can report scam cases to [email protected].
Ensure coordination between trading standards and adult and children social care teams
Relevant officers in trading standards and other services should discuss this issue to help identify which residents may be vulnerable to this crime and how officers can work together to proactively safeguard them, such as distributing call blockers or encouraging vulnerable residents to purchase one.
Consider undertaking a proactive awareness-raising communications campaign
Ahead of the digital switchover, councils could consider undertaking a proactive communications campaign to raise awareness amongst residents. The campaign should be aimed at friends and family of vulnerable residents and highlight that the digital switchover will be free of charge.
The campaign should be clear that councils and their home care alarm providers or contractors will never ask for personal or financial information over the phone. Residents should also know that if somebody tries to sell them equipment or get them to sign up to expensive contracts as part of the digital switchover, they should not rush into any decisions, should seek a second opinion, and speak to their phone company who will be able to provide advice.
Our digital switchover partner toolkit contains lots of information which might be helpful when designing an awareness raising campaign.
Use language which reflects the criminal nature of this issue
It is important to recognise that digital switchover scams or fraud are a crime and should be treated as such. Councils should ensure their communications use language which reflect that these scams are crimes and should avoid solely framing the issue as a safeguarding matter. For example, terms such as scammers should be avoided, and perpetrators of these crimes should be labelled as criminals to avoid trivialising the issue.
Halton Borough Council
Halton residents have seen an increase in scam telephone calls about healthcare devices. In some instances, the caller claims to be from or working with the NHS, and asks the call recipients, who are primarily elderly residents, for their personal details.
Upon receiving reports of these crimes, the council's Trading Standards team notified all staff via email and sent out alerts through their software system (ICAN) to residents who had signed up to receive these notifications to raise awareness of the scam.
Officers also supported the victims of the scam and visited vulnerable residents in their home to provide advice and support, and to install call blocker technology if required. Officers then followed up with residents in the following weeks to ask about their welfare. Trading standards officers also contacted the adult services team to check if they knew of the victims, and if they did, adult services were then able to take further safeguarding action.
Halton also offers civil advice and can assist residents to get their money back if they have been the victim of a scam. The council has been successful in getting back money for numerous residents via their bank and/or the Financial Services Ombudsman.
Staffordshire County Council
The council has undertaken significant work to safeguard vulnerable residents from becoming the victim of scams or fraud. It has used resources from previous and current national trading standards funding initiatives, as well as proceeds of crime funds to install 155 call blockers in vulnerable people’s homes, with a further 51 currently being processed for installation.
The council established links with all eight Community Safety Partnerships that are located within the county, and through doing so, they have been able to cascade out information about call blocker funding which has led to a number of referrals being received from partner agencies.
To make it easy for residents to access this technology, the council has built an online call blocker application form which is very user friendly. The council is also working in close partnership with Staffordshire Police, and through the police’s Smart Alert system, localised messages are sent out about crime, engagement events, community messaging and prevention advice. This has been an effective tool in widening the reach of the call blocker project and has led to relatives of vulnerable people getting in touch.
Staffordshire has worked hard to raise awareness of the call blocker technology. It has a scams awareness email newsletter that is sent to local residents monthly, which highlights common scams and promotes the call blocker project. The council has also printed call blocker leaflets that has an application form on the back, and these are distributed at community events, talks and in local libraries. The council is engaging with voluntary groups through the Support Staffordshire Locality Forum to raise further awareness.
Finally, officers have used the council’s internal newsletter to raise awareness about the call blocker project and how to make referrals.
Other useful resources
Identifying and dealing with scam calls
The TSA, the representative body for technology enabled care services, has created a guide to support providers of telecare services identify and deal with scam calls. This work has been produced alongside the National Trading Standards team and aims to raise awareness and showcase helpful techniques.
Reducing the risk of fraud related to healthcare devices
Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has shared the steps they are implementing and which may be helpful to other councils:
- Educate residents: provide information to residents about the risks of digital scams and how to recognise and avoid them. This information should be in a clear and accessible format, such as pamphlets or online resources.
- Provide technical support: consider providing technical support to residents who may struggle to use digital technologies. This support could include training on how to use digital devices, as well as technical support for issues such as software updates or connectivity problems.
- Partner with community organisations: provide additional support and advice to residents.
- Monitor scams: monitor reports of digital scams in the area and take action to prevent them. This could include working with law enforcement or financial institutions to track down scammers and recover stolen funds.
- Conduct an inventory: conduct an inventory of all existing equipment to identify which devices may be impacted by the transition to digital systems.
- Assess compatibility: an assessment of the compatibility of existing equipment with new digital systems to determine whether upgrades or replacements are necessary. In some cases, existing equipment may be able to function with digital systems with minimal adjustments, while in other cases, new devices may be required.
- Provide support: support residents who require new equipment or upgrades to existing equipment. This could include financial assistance, as well as technical support to ensure that the new equipment functions correctly.
- Business support: provide support to businesses as part of the digital transfer.
- Business continuity: partners should have a plan in place in case issues emerge with the digital switchover, and ensure they have solutions available to address these issues. This should also consider wider emergency planning implications. A mock exercise should be considered, and key learnings should be captured.
- Establish an all-age programme: this should highlight that anyone can be affected by digital switchover related scams, including vulnerable young people or young carers, as well as older adults. To mitigate the risk of this, the council should consider the different implications associated with different age groups and agree responsibilities of partner agencies.