Gran conquered Everest, but even she couldn’t stop the cold callers

Scammers were making Patsy’s life hell, so her grandson decided to do something about it

This story appeared in The Times on Saturday 10 July.

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Patsy Lees has conquered Everest four times — the latest climb when she was 80 — but even she was made to feel vulnerable when she was bombarded by 30 scam calls a day.

Lees, 82, from Surrey, first tackled the mountain aged 69 as part of a medical experiment studying the effects of oxygen debt at high altitudes, then returned for another three trips after she got the taste for adventure.

Yet when her landline phone, which she relied upon for contact with her family and friends, started ringing constantly with calls from scammers, she felt helpless.

“I’m quite a strong person, especially for my age,” said Lees, who travelled the world during her career as an in-flight nurse, caring for the sick when they were being transported by plane back to Britain. “But I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with scammers.”

She became very hesitant to pick up the phone for fear that it was someone trying to sell her something, but always wanted to answer in case it was friends or family members who needed her. The majority of the calls were people trying to flog investments or get-rich-quick schemes.

She said: “It was a horrible feeling realising I had no idea how to make them stop and make the phone calls go away. It made me feel very vulnerable, exposed and it was intrusive and disruptive to the life I want to lead.

“I just hated the feeling I had when the phone rang.”

Her experience inspired her grandson, Charlie Shakeshaft, to put an end to harassment calls.

Shakeshaft, 26, from Clapham, south London, said: “I’d gone to see Gran for Sunday lunch, but when I arrived she was in the middle of a phone call which was making her visibly distressed. It was horrible. She was living on her own and didn’t have a lot of experience with technology, so she was particularly vulnerable to many of these scammers.”

Shakeshaft, who was running his own digital marketing business, installed a free BT landline call blocker and signed her up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which makes it illegal for anyone to cold-call you. After a few weeks, all of Patsy’s unwanted calls stopped.

After realising that many of those vulnerable to cold calls and scams did not know how to stop them, he launched the company Individual Protection Solutions (IPS), which offers members a free basic plan and a premium version that costs £4.49 a month. The basic plan enrols you with the TPS and adds you to the no junk mail register with the Mail Preference Service, so you stop getting junk through your letterbox. You can also use IPS’s data breach checker to find out if your personal information has been leaked, and members get a monthly update on the status of their registered email address. A five-minute quiz on your attitude towards scams and your behaviour online gives you a “stop scam score” and shows the areas that you may need to improve your security.

Members also get newsletters and how-to videos about the basic ways to protect information and can forward suspicious emails to IPS, which uses an analytics tool to determine whether it is safe to open and respond to within a minute.

You could do all of these things online yourself, but IPS aims to make it as easy as possible to set up a wall around your data. The premium version gives you the basic plan, plus the Norton 360 Standard plan, which includes a password manager, a virtual private network (VPN) so you can browse the internet anonymously and anti-virus software. If you were to take out this plan independently, it would cost £2.91 a month for the first two years, then £5.42 a month for each year after that.

(IPS Note: 360 Protect does not come with a contract and you can cancel anytime whereas most alternatives have a minimum contract period. You also get to use our unique technology tools like the Data Breach Checker, StopScamScore and Question an email with IPS ).

There are also free versions of these protection devices. Anti-virus software, such as Avast or Windows Defender, and VPNs such as Proton and Hotspot Shield are free to download. LastPass, Avira and Roboform are free password managers.

James Daley from Fairer Finance, an agency looking to help consumers, said: “The more solutions to help people protect themselves from scams, the better. A lot of those who are vulnerable are not necessarily digitally literate so although you can buy this stuff or take it for free yourself, it can be extremely valuable to have it all in one place.”

Since January more than two thirds of adults (36 million) have been targeted by a scammer, according to Citizens Advice. The number of scams reported to the charity in the first five months of 2021 was more than double the number in the same period last year, while unsolicited email scams were up 67 per cent and scam telephone calls 60 per cent.

Younger people were most likely to be targeted by a text or messaging service, while those over 55 were more likely to be targeted over the phone; 54 per cent of scams were about fake deliveries or parcels, 41 per cent involved someone pretending to be from the government and 21 per cent were offering a get-rich-quick scheme, Citizens Advice said.

IPS is not the only scam-prevention service. BT customers can use its protect service to screen unwanted calls, while PlusNet customers can blacklist numbers to be sent straight to a separate junk voicemail.

A cloud-based ID verification firm called Hiya uses technology to block spam and nuisance calls before they are delivered. Its app is free to download.

Shakeshaft said: “Learning about cybersecurity often means navigating a confusing and jargon-filled world, which isn’t easy. While people like me somehow know how to stop scams, people like Gran sometimes don’t.”


Protect yourself

  • Sign up to the Telephone Preference Service and Mail Preference Service or get a service such as IPS to do it for you.
  • If you still get scam emails, texts or calls — or even someone at your door — don’t respond. Delete the email or text, without opening any attachments, and don’t worry about being rude by asking someone at your door to go away.
  • Update the main operating software on your mobile phone and computer whenever possible and install security software, such as Norton or McAfee, to protect your computer from viruses that can harvest your data.
  • If you find it tricky to remember different passwords for every account, use a password manager, which creates strong passwords for all your log-ins and stores them in a password vault.

IPS View

Take a look at some of the tools IPS has developed to protect you if you are in a similar position to Patsy.


Have your say

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