As more and more people replace their landlines with mobile devices, the rise of phone scams continues to rise steadily upward. Since people have their cell phones with them at all times, they are far more likely to answer than a landline. Phone and texting scams have cost billions of dollars over the years, and hackers continue to develop new and improved schemes.
You can implement several tips to protect yourself and your friends and family from phone scams.
Common Phone Scams
Often, people will experience an increased number of phone calls during times of high stress. An example of this is near tax season in March or April, which is very stressful. The most common scam of this variety is when an imposter IRS agent calls to ask you to verify your SSN (social security number) before receiving your refund. If you were to give out your SSN in this case, it would likely end up for sale on the dark web or used to transfer funds from your bank account.
Another popular scam is when the imposter claims that you owe money to the IRS, and they are calling to collect your banking details. If you do not give them the information, they threaten to send the police after you to arrest you. These types of calls tend to be more clearly fake, as the IRS would not use a robocall to inform you of an overdue amount. They would be more likely to use your secure IRS account to comminate such matters with you.
Another common scam is when the imposter specifically targets older individuals. The scammer will call and pretend to be a relative, usually a grandchild. Usually, the scammer will already have the grandchild’s name from searching the internet, or they will trick the victim into giving them the name. The scammer will claim to be stuck in a remote location, with no way to get home or withdraw money. They will ask the elderly individual to send them a wire transfer, as the bank cannot trace that method as easily.
Here are some ways to protect yourself:
Run a Reverse Phone Lookup
When you notice an increase in robocalls, you should stop answering the call if you do not recognize the number. If you are curious about who it is, you can always run a background check and try a reverse phone number lookup on the caller. Many background check services offer these phone lookups, often without charging additional fees. When you input the number(s) that have been calling you, the background check service will scour the web for any info they can pull up. Usually, this includes information about their:
- Place of work
- Social media activity
- Email address
This is enough information needed for you to report the caller to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The organization will bring down the caller and potentially charge them with fraud if they have stolen money from anyone. Here is also how to report phone scams besides reaching out to the FTC.
Utilize the Do Not Call List
The National Do Not Call List attempts to reduce the number of spam calls that people receive. When you register for this list, you will still receive calls from organizations like charities and political platforms, as there is no way to prevent these. Telemarketers, on the other hand, will be significantly reduced. It will take one month for your name to become registered on the list. After that, if you still receive spam calls, you can file a complaint with the FTC.
If you have older relatives, you should consider adding their phone numbers to the list as well. They might have more difficulty distinguishing between a legitimate call and a fake one, so the less they have to deal with that, the better.
Delete Suspicious Texts
You may receive phony text messages with a request to reply or click on a specific link. If you engage and send a reply, you will be letting scammers know that the phone number is active, and they will continue contacting you. If you click on the link, you will likely be downloading malware onto your device that can potentially steal your information.
When you receive a text message like this, pay close attention to the written words. Keep an eye out for spelling or grammar mistakes or immediate calls to action. For instance, if you receive a message indicating that your bank account has gotten suspended and requires you to call immediately and reactive it, this is likely a spam text. Legitimate bank employees are very unlikely to text you, and they would never ask you for confidential information over text.
By far, the simplest method of protecting yourself from phone scams is by simply hanging up. If you push a button or speak with someone over the phone, you alert them that the number is active. The scammer will likely continue trying to reach you until they trick you into giving up information. Certain scammers will call once and then hang up. When you ring them back, you will get charged high rates for the call.
Older adults often want to stay on the phone longer, as they are lonely and desire conversation. Scammers will take advantage of this and keep them on the line until they get what they need. You must warn your older friends and relatives about this trick and encourage them to hang up as soon as possible. Some older people do well with hand-written notes posted near their phones. These notes can remind them to hang up and not to engage with the unknown caller. If possible, try calling or visiting them whenever you can so that they do not engage with scam artists over the phone for a conversation.
Use A Blocking App
Certain apps can distinguish between legitimate callers and robocalls. They will censor the scams and robocalls, making them impossible to get through to you. These apps will usually show you the caller and indicate that it is a suspected scam. If the app is mistaken and you recognize the number as legitimate, you can easily accept the call. Afterward, you can manually add the number into the app, which will allow it to come through with no problem next time.
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