Brazen fraudsters are using the official telephone number of a court in a scam designed to dupe the public out of personal details and, ultimately, cash, the Manchester Evening News can reveal. Police and Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, are believed to be investigating.
Manchester Civil Justice Centre, where county and family courts are based, alongside sittings of the High Court, is understood to have fallen victim to ‘spoofing’. According to Action Fraud, the scam known as ‘number spoofing’ works by fraudsters cloning the telephone number of an organization or company they want to impersonate so the official number appears on a victim’s caller ID display on landlines or mobiles.
Fraudsters then pass themselves off as officials – in this case court officials. As a result, court bosses have urged anyone with no current involvement in the courts system to ignore any such calls they receive.
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According to reports online, scammers claim victims’ National Insurance numbers have been compromised and use baseless, legal threats to scare them into giving up personal and financial information. The towering £160m justice center – over 16 storeys on Bridge Street on the edge of Spinningfields in Manchester city center – opened in 2007.
Callers to the switchboard are told in an automated message: “We are aware that this telephone number – 0161 240 5000 – is being used in relation to a potential scam. This is being investigated.
“If you have received a call claiming to be from this number and have no current business with Manchester county or Manchester family court, please ignore it. If you have any further concerns regarding this matter, you can contact the Action Fraud team on 0300 123 2040.”
No further details are given. The number 0161 240 5000 – which is the genuine number of the civil justice center – is linked online to numerous fraud reports. Who Called Me – an online phone number checker – reported more than 60,000 phone ‘lookups’ relating to the number and 915 subsequent comments about it on its website, saying the overall rating for the number was ‘negative’.
It’s understood the scam began in November last year. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said it wasn’t an issue unique to Manchester Civil Justice Center or HMCTS. Other organizations and companies are also targeted by scammers.
The Manchester Evening News asked the Ministry of Justice and Action Fraud how many scam calls have been made, how the court’s phone number was apparently spoofed and whether security procedures have been stepped up in the building as a result of the investigation, which is understood to be ongoing.
A spokesperson said: “HMCTS will never contact you using an automated message. If you receive a call like this please hang up and report it to Action Fraud.” Suspicious text messages can be reported free of charge by forwarding a message to 7726.
“If you believe you have been the victim of a scam and paid money, report it to Action Fraud or telephone 0300 123 2040,” added the spokesman. “If you’re suspicious about a call you receive, you can now also call 159 to check whether you’re being targeted by scammers.”
Action Fraud has been contacted for comment.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.