Scam call-blocking device proves its worth

A trial of a call-blocking device that prevents scammers and unwanted callers from harassing landline owners resulted in 98% of unwanted calls being blocked.

The Commission for Financial Capability (CFFC) is now calling on telephone companies to follow the example of British Telecom and offer the devices free to vulnerable customers.

CFFC trialled the trueCall device in 11 households throughout the country between July and November, 2018. Of all calls received, about 30% were nuisance or scam calls, of which 98% were blocked. The machines plug into landline phones and block all recorded messages, silent calls and calls from numbers not pre-identified by the homeowner. They may be scam calls, or nuisance calls which are classified as those made repeatedly by organisations trying to sell products or fundraise.

The nationwide trial of the British device followed CFFC’s Fraud Education Manager, Bronwyn Groot, trialling the first unit she brought into New Zealand with a couple in Nelson, Graham and Cecilie Dyer (pictured above). The Dyers, aged 85 and 83 respectively, contacted Groot after being harassed by dozens of late night calls, many from overseas numbers and potentially from scammers.

After Groot hooked up their landline to a trueCall unit, all unwanted calls stopped immediately. The Dyers initially thought the scammers had simply moved on to other numbers, until Groot showed them the data from the unit’s software interface. Over a four month period it showed 51 calls had been blocked from countries as diverse as the UK, Turkey, Australia and Tunisia.

CFFC brought in more units, valued at about $280 each, to run a national trial so it could compile data to encourage New Zealand phone companies to provide the units to vulnerable customers. Many people, particularly the elderly, need to retain their landlines because they may have medical devices connected to them, and to remain connected to their social network and healthcare providers when they don’t feel confident using digital phones.

“Unfortunately, scams and nuisance calls made through landlines have increased markedly in recent years, causing acute stress to those who feel invaded in their homes by unwanted callers,” says Groot.

It is estimated that 67% of consumers have answered the phone to a scammer in the past year, some posing as Spark technicians, courier companies or businesses offering investment opportunities.

CFFC’s cost-benefit analysis of the trueCall units mirrored that of British trials, showing for every $1 spent, $32 could be saved in funds potentially lost to scammers and in the social care costs of victims suffering mental stress, which can also lead to physical ill health.

The trueCall device has proved so successful in Britain that the British Government has allocated £500,000 to install trueCall devices in the homes of elderly and vulnerable people. British Telecom also supplies units for free.

“Scam calls are a growing problem in New Zealand and this device is now a proven weapon in the fight against them,” says Groot. “I would love for a telco in this country to pick up trueCall and offer the device for free to their vulnerable customers.”