The scam plays on the fears that users have of their device encountering technical issues, and criminal groups are charging unsuspecting people up to £50 over the phone to get their devices back to full functionality, in spite of the fact that there is nothing really wrong with them.
This nefarious approach to scamming phone owners first took off in the US but has since been reported by British users, with a message popping up on screen and encouraging them to call an 0800 number because their device has allegedly ‘crashed’.
The alert, which appears when users visit particular sites in Safari, even claims that third-party apps are to blame for the problems and claims that if users do not call the number of get it ‘repaired’, they will end up losing personal information.
In reality, anyone who makes a call to the number shown on screen will be put through to someone who requests their payment card information and will proceed to take money from their account.
This kind of identity theft can be effective if the people being targeted are uncertain about how their device works and are concerned that they need to get their handset repaired as quickly as possible. And because the issue is software-based rather than hardware-based, customers may not think to take their device to an official Apple store or a reputable repair outlet.
In this instance, replacing iPhone parts will not make a difference because the scam occurs as a result of a pop-up message which cannot seem to be removed as long as the handset is connected to the internet.
The work-around for this which some users have found is to activate airplane mode from the settings menu, and then clear the Safari browser’s history and cookies. Those who have yet to be impacted by the message are advised to de-activate the option to display pop-ups when using Safari, as this will prevent the alert from ever appearing.
Privacy issues such as this loom large in the mobile market whenever a high-profile case comes to light. And where fraud against the iPhone parts ways with traditional email phishing scams is that it can appear to take over an entire device, leaving users at the mercy of the scammers.
Giving financial details to third parties over the phone is always a bad idea, but it is perfectly possible to see how people might be duped by this, especially if they do not know about how Apple’s mobile ecosystem operates. Hopefully, by bringing this story to light, fewer people will fall foul of what is undoubtedly a particularly malignant example of major mobile fraud.