The phone calls are often automated, so while they feature recordings of real human voices, you’re actually interacting with a computer that can process your answers. You’ve probably used such a system when calling your bank, topping up mobile phone credit or tracking a parcel with a delivery firm.

The ‘AI’ can understand basic responses (such as yes and no) and listen to you reading out reference numbers to direct you to the appropriate department.

Vishing scams work in the same way and are effective because they can use personal information which may have been obtained in a previous data leak to convince you that the call is genuine.

As an example of what a vishing scam looks like, I received a call recently from ‘British Telecom’ informing me that there was a special offer and that I had been selected as a loyal customer to receive a discount on my broadband.

The spiel went on for a minute or two and attempted to convince me that it was legitimate call from BT by telling me my name, address and the last four digits of my debit card.

I was told that the discount on offer was being back-dated by a few months and in order to receive the money I was ‘owed’ I needed to give the caller my full debit card number and the CVV number on the rear.

In this particular case, I was speaking to real person but was in the fortunate position of being well aware of this type of scam. Plus, there were a few obvious red flags including the fact that BT no longer refers to itself as British Telecom and hasn’t done so for years.

I could have hung up at this point, but decided to ask why the refund couldn’t be automatically applied to my account, since BT already has my payment information.

Eventually the caller became very irate and demanded I handed over my details immediately or the offer would be withdrawn: another clear indication that it was a vishing call.

There are plenty of other similar scams which can seem genuine when the caller tells you information that you’d imagine they couldn’t possibly know unless they really were from the company they claimed to be.

Unfortunately, keeping your personal information private is extremely difficult these days, so even if a caller has some financial details, don’t be persuaded to give them any more. Their aim is to fill out the missing details that they don’t yet have in order to take your money.

Here are some tips to ensure you don’t fall victim to a vishing scam.

  1. If you’re ever in doubt that the call is genuine, hang up and contact the company yourself using the official phone number or website – don’t use information provided on the call.
  2. Don’t be bamboozled by a sense of urgency created by the caller. It’s designed to prevent you from making rational decisions about the information you’re willing to hand over.
  3. Never tell anyone your full password or bank details over the phone. (The only exception to the latter is when you placed the call and need to purchase something.)
  4. Know what companies will and won’t ask you on the phone. Legitimate firms will never ask for your full password.
  5. Don’t respond to voicemails or pre-recorded messages that tell you to press buttons on your phone or answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Responding usually opens the floodgates to a lot more robocalls.

And here are some common vishing call subjects:

  • “There’s a problem with your bank account and you need to make a payment to fix it.”
  • “It seems someone is trying to empty your bank account and it can only be stopped by verifying you are the account holder.”
  • “I’m from Microsoft and your computer has a virus. Pay over the phone and we’ll fix it remotely.”
  • “Your tax return is wrong and you need to call back to amend it.”
  • "This call is from HM Revenue and Customs to inform you there is a tax fraud registered under your name."
  • "You or someone in your home has been downloading pornography [or copyrighted movies]. Your broadband will be terminated if you don't call back / pay a fine / hand over personal details."

If you are unfortunate enough to be tricked in this way and lose money, there is not a great deal you can do to recover it. Speak to your bank or credit card provider in the first instance and find out if they can offer help.

Here are more scams to be aware of and here are tips to avoid being conned by phishing emails.

Related articles for further reading