Have you ever picked up a phone call from an unknown number? You are a unicorn if you haven’t. Whether it is someone calling you back after a successful job interview or a friend who recently changed their number, you must be familiar with this scenario. Unfortunately, in some cases, scammers could be hiding behind unfamiliar numbers too, and that is why you need to think before you pick up. Now, you do not need to burn your phone and run hiding to protect yourself against phone scams. All you need is knowledge because once you know what to expect from schemers and what kinds of red flags you need to look out for, it will become much more difficult – and, hopefully, impossible – to trick you. Considering that scammers can use phone scams to trick users out of money, you should really listen up.
Scammers push and shove to make you panic. Don’t give in!
Are you familiar with the term spoofing? Spoofing refers to a situation where a scammer might try to conceal themselves by impersonating someone else to operate a successful phone scam. In most cases, scammers try to create fake scenarios in which they are calling on behalf of someone you know to make you think that they are representing them. For example, they might try to trick you into thinking that a family member got into a big car accident and that the caller is the only mediator between them and you. In a different scenario, they could try to introduce themselves to you as a representative of a bank, an insurance company, IRS, police, hospital, school, university, debt collector, and so on. If you panic in the moment, scammers can try to make you act fast before you get the chance to think things through. Of course, if you panic, the phone scam is more likely to be successful.
If you receive a funny call, and you have access to the Internet, quickly cross-check the number to see what comes up. It is possible that you will find information about scammers. In a scenario where the scammer is trying to trick you into thinking that they are calling on behalf of someone you know, do not reveal any information yourself. If you accidentally give up a name, push the caller to reveal other details that would confirm the call is real. If they can’t do it, the chances are they are NOT representing the person you know, and, in fact, they are behind a phone scam. If the caller with an unknown number allegedly calls from a bank or another institution, make them reveal information about themselves, their license IDs – when applicable – and similar data, and do the same kind of research to figure out whether or not the person calling you is actually who they introduce themselves as.
REMEMBER: You can always call back. If you are feeling flustered or confused, take your time to regain your composure. It is also a good idea to ask someone else to listen in on the phone call. As the saying goes, two heads are always better than one.
Read the scenario before taking the lead role
When scammers call, they create a scenario that is meant to make you panic and act in a certain way. For example, if a loved one has, allegedly, got into a car accident, the scammer might try to convince you to wire some money into their account so that they could cover some random expenses. In this situation, the first thing you must do is contact the person who is, allegedly, in trouble. The chances are, you will reach the person, and they will turn out to be just fine. Of course, you should not panic if you cannot reach the person because maybe they are in a meeting or driving somewhere and cannot pick up.
In some cases, it is easier to unravel a phone scam if the scammer is trying to impersonate, for example, a bank official. All you need to do is find the real number to the office or institution, call them up, and figure out what is going on. For example, if you appear to receive a call from your bank, and the person on the other end of the line informs that your online banking account was breached, you absolutely need to be careful. Phone scammers might try to extract your password, full name, credit card numbers, home address, and other information that could help them perform identity theft and fraud! Unfortunately, in most cases, criminals use phone scam to trick users out of money.
According to FTC, victims of phone scams lost $720 on average in 2017. Last year, people in the US filed 1.1 million fraud reports, and the total loss came up to $9.5 billion by the end of the year. These numbers are truly shocking, especially since there is no reason why anyone should fall victim to phone scams.
Red flags that give away phone scams
- Scammers use unfamiliar phone numbers. Note that scammers often use numbers with the target’s area code to trick them into picking up the call.
- Scammers introduce themselves as official representatives of a reputable institution (e.g., a bank).
- Allegedly, scammers call on behalf of someone you know and, instead of providing you with useful information, ask you money or private information.
- Scammers inform you about winning lotteries or contests you never entered or participated.
- Scammers use threats and blackmailing techniques to get money and/or sensitive information.
- Scammers ask to disclose sensitive information (e.g., full name, credit card number, address).
- Scammers hang up or get flustered when you start questioning them and their intentions.
FTC presents a few scenarios that scammers who use phone scams to trick users out of money can employ.
Phone scam aftermath
Picking up calls from unknown numbers can be risky and dangerous, and that is why you must be vigilant at all times. If you end up encountering a phone scam, you should file a complaint immediately. If you have been tricked into disclosing personal information, you must secure it ASAP. For example, if you disclosed bank-related data, contact your bank immediately to secure your accounts. If you disclosed passwords, change them immediately. We recommend using this guide that shows how to create stronger passwords. Needless to say, if you create a password that looks something like ++;@!^5!|!gI=+, you will not remember and give it away by accident even when you are in panic mode. That is an unexpected defense mechanism that you add by creating strong passwords. Finally, we suggest taking some time to educate more vulnerable people around you – your kids, older parents or grandparents – to ensure that they do not become victims of people who use phone scam to trick users out of money!
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