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Guest Blog - We’re investing millions with EE and BT to protect our customers from scams

Mobile UK

5 min read Partner content

This guest blog has been kindly provided by Marc Allera, CEO, BT’s Consumer division.

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Most of us have received a fraudulent text message like this, designed to steal your personal or financial information. Incidences of scams have soared with new opportunities presented by the pandemic, when so many of us have relied on home deliveries and our mobile networks.  

According to Stop Scams UK [], the not-for-profit that exists to co-ordinate cross-industry efforts to tackle fraudsters, almost all scams involve more than one industry sector. A single scam will usually use multiple legitimate platforms provided by financial services, telco and tech sectors. It not only defrauds consumers, but also harms trusted brands and businesses.

As an industry, mobile operators have a responsibility to our customers to do all we can to address the problem. That’s why we've invested millions with EE in an anti-spam filter to identify and limit the spread of scams. Since its introduction in July, it's already blocked more than 62m spam and scam texts.  

Our anti-spam filter is designed to proactively block spam texts by analysing patterns of content as they reach EE’s network, helping to divert smishing messages before reaching customers’ mobiles. It has also identified and terminated more than 18,000 scamming SIM cards, reducing more scam texts at the source.

The headline numbers are big, but it’s early days. And while we’ve canned a lot spam messages, scam messages are still getting through. Our anti-spam filter needs time to mature, and we are likely to need to deploy a further layer of countermeasures.  

Nevertheless in 3 months, we have:

  • Reviewed 4bn messages, blocking 62m
  • Blocked 19K sims  
  • Made a > 90% reduction in rogue sims
  • And made a > 90% reduction in spam SMS  

We’ve used other tactics to address the SMS threat, too. That includes the removal of between 40 and 50 illicit SIM suppliers linked to scam SMS. We’ve made product policy changes to increase the investment required and limit the attractiveness of our SIM products. Online retailers are limited to two sims per sale, limiting ‘un-limited’ texts that can be sent. We also have a task force dedicated to scam number porting. As a result, we’re seeing SIM swaps at a rate of less than 1 per day.  

What else? ‘FluBot’ – a scam text that aims to coerce a customer into installing malware on their phone, giving the attacker access to contact lists, and potential new targets – customers are ringfenced from compromising others. We’ve helped Which? put together their ‘SMS Best Practice Guide’ []. We make intelligence disclosures to banks to help protect compromised customers. And it’s not just SMS scams we’re working hard to prevent.

Banking on collaboration  

In fact, BT has actively been working with financial services companies to combat scams since 2018, when we began a trial with Barclays and Nationwide. It identified and responded to immediate threats to customers by preventing inadvertent access to scam websites and phone numbers mimicking their brands. The engagement has continued to evolve, with responses to a whole host of emerging criminal threats. That original trial has led to us becoming a founding member of Stop Scams UK, and protected customers from more than 20,000 scams over and above those detected by our own resources in the past three months alone.

And, in addition to acting on our own services, we collaborate with banks including Barclays and Lloyds to adopt best practice when using SMS services – including bespoke reviews of their use of SMS and playback sessions.

The introduction of BT’s Digital Voice [] will be another tool in our arsenal. Home phones are shifting from analogue to digital, and the switching off of a 30-year-old analogue copper-based system that is no longer fit for purpose means home phone providers like us need to move their customers to the next generation of voice services.  

BT’s Digital Voice runs over the broadband line, rather than a separate analogue line. That means in the coming months we’ll be rolling out technology similar to our EE spam filter for our Digital Voice customers. It will identify unusual patterns and calling trends and block suspicious calls on our network, giving our customers a much safer experience. Our BT Call Protect is already blocking 2m scam calls each week.  

Looking ahead, we’ll play our part in a new emergency hotline for people to report and check financial scams as they happen, as part of a Stop Scams UK initiative. We are also rapidly working up a proposal for an initiative to block international calls displaying UK phone numbers. Meanwhile, two-factor authentication and anti-bot solutions help protect customer accounts from being hi-jacked.

Then there is Project Alliance, a BT-driven initiative with Stop Scams UK that provides an additional layer of protective blocks against scam attacks: BT takes real-time scam URLs identified by banks and their agents, preventing access to them for all customers across broadband and mobile. We’ve blocked 20,000 over the past quarter, and we’re working with the National Cyber Security Centre to industrialise this project.

Despite all the real progress, we know there is still more we can do. And, of course, we still urge customers across our industry to be on their guard.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @marcallera



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