Got a text message from the Met Police? Don't ignore it – you may be able to help fight fraud
If you get a text message from the Metropolitan Police in the next 48 hours asking for help fighting fraud, don't ignore it. The organisation is sending text messages to 70,000 people who may have been targeted by fraudsters using a sophisticated online tool to spoof the phone numbers of legitimate companies such as banks.
Below we explain what you need to know, including how to spot if the text is genuine and what you can do to help the police's investigation (whether you got the text or not).
If you think you've been a victim of a scam or want to know more on how to avoid one, see below or read our 30+ ways to stop scams guide.
What to do if you get one of the Met Police's text messages
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, whose name and image is sadly the most misused by scammers in the UK said: "I've warned people against unexpected text messages for years. So as this is an exception, it's really important to spread the message. For a 48-hour window, starting at midnight on Thursday 24 November, be on the lookout for a text from the Metropolitan Police – even if you don't live in London – as these will be sent to 70,000 people.
"If you do get it, there won't be a link in it, but you will be directed to the website met.police.uk/elaborate (if there is a clickable link, or the website is different, it could be a scammer spoofing it, so be careful). There you will be able to help police investigate a vicious form of spoof-fraud that has stolen people's cash and had a big mental health impact on many.
"There is also a very slight chance – I don't want to overblow it – that some of the people who have been defrauded by these scams could get a little of their money back due to this investigation. So it is even more worth co-operating with the police in those circumstances."
The Met told us that those being contacted have been identified as potential victims of so-called 'number spoofing' fraud. Specifically, victims may have been caught out by an online tool, known as iSpoof, which enabled criminals to appear as if they were calling from banks, tax offices and other official bodies while attempting to defraud people.
The Met says more than 200,000 potential victims in the UK alone have been directly targeted through iSpoof, with 70,000 of those linked to an identified suspect (it's those 70,000 that will be getting the texts). You will likely have been called over the phone from a fraudster pretending to be from your bank.
Got a Met Police text? How to tell if it's genuine
As Martin has noted above, there are two key points:
- You will ONLY receive the message on 24 November or 25 November 2022. If you receive a text like this outside of this 48-hour window, it could be a scam and should be ignored.
- The message will ask you to visit the Met Police website at met.police.uk/elaborate but, crucially, it will NOT contain a direct link. Scam texts often invite you to follow a link by tapping to open it, so to help distinguish this as a legitimate message, the Met Police won't be linking directly to its website.
Note: You may be contacted regardless of where you live in the UK, not just in London.
How these scams work
iSpoof allowed its criminal users, who paid for the service in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, to disguise their phone number so it appeared as if they were calling from a trusted source. This process is known as 'spoofing'.
With 'spoofing', fraudsters attempt to trick people into handing over money or providing sensitive information, such as one-time passcodes sent to banking apps or phones.
In many cases, the scammers already have access to your account from information obtained on the dark web. They might mention some transactions that you have legitimately made, to gain your trust.
However, they'll usually then mention a transaction you haven't made, in order to make you think you have already been scammed – and they'll ask you to help them move your money to a 'safe' account. This is how you know you're dealing with a scammer. You real bank will NEVER ask you to move money to a 'safe' account or to share a one-time passcode or security code.
The Met says fraudulent calls made via iSpoof have cost victims a total of at least £48 million, based on Action Fraud reports. But because fraud is vastly underreported, the full amount is believed to be much higher.
Not got a text but had suspicious calls from someone claiming to be your bank? Report it
iSpoof has now been shut down by Scotland Yard's Cyber Crime Unit, in a joint effort with international law enforcement bodies – but it's important to note fraudsters still have the ability to mimic official phone numbers via other similar sites and tools, so you should remain suspicious whenever you get an unexpected call from someone claiming to be your bank.
If you haven't been contacted by the Met Police but think you may have spoken to a fraudster, or lost money to a scammer pretending to be from your bank, the Met is asking you to report it to Action Fraud – as the systems there will be able to identify other likely victims of the particular set of crimes it is investigating. Even if your case isn't relevant to this operation, the information could be useful for other investigations.
You can report scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or anonymously on the Action Fraud website. If you're in Scotland, you can report scams to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
What to do if you think you've been scammed
If you think you are being scammed, hang up the phone immediately and independently search for your bank's contact details to inform them (for example, call the phone number on the back of your card or on your bank statement). Alternatively, call the 159 hotline.
If you have already been scammed and have lost money, contact your bank (again, by independently searching for its contact details). It is helpful to report the scam via Action Fraud to help the police investigate and prevent future scams from taking place.
If you want to get some more advice, visit the Citizens Advice website, or call its consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.
For more info on avoiding scams, see our 30+ ways to stop scams guide.