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Phone Scams

Phone Scams

Scammers are always looking for new ways to separate you from your money, and phone scams remain a popular way to steal from innocent victims. Typically, scammers use scare tactics or try to convince you they are being helpful and kind while tricking you into giving them credit card details, other personal information, or straight money. Phone scams are so popular because the average amount lost in a phone scam is around $1,000. That figure is much higher than you would lose with most other types of fraud.

What is a Phone Scam or Phone Fraud and How to Recognize it?

A phone scam is when a trickster calls an unsuspecting person and threatens them by pretending to be from some official agency and demanding money. Sometimes scammers use fake charities or inform the recipient that they have won a prize but need to pay for insurance or taxes on their winnings. There are dozens of popular scams running that 1 in 6 Americans fall for every year. In 2019, the FTC received 1.1 million complaints of fraud, and almost 75% of them were phone scams.

What is a Phone Scam or Phone Fraud and How to Recognize it?

Unfortunately, phone scammers have perfected their game, and they use spoofed phone numbers to look like they are calling from legitimate sources. However, it is crucial to understand that these calls are really just fraud, and if you know what to look for, you can avoid being caught.

Some things to note that indicates a phone scam or phone fraud are:

  • Calls coming from government agencies like the Social Security Administration and the IRS (that rarely, if ever call you).
  • Calls from Microsoft and Apple - these tech companies do not know who you are. They will never call you to warn that your computer has been breached or hacked.
  • Unsolicited calls for charities or disaster relief, especially after a major event.
  • Calls that announce you have won a prize or lottery that you never entered.
  • Any call that promises something that’s “too good to be true.”
  • Robocalls that demand that you call back or you will be “sued” or “arrested.” - The police do not call to warn you when they are coming to arrest you.
  • They ask you to pay with a gift card or other digital platforms like Bitcoin or PayPal.
  • The caller puts pressure on you to make a decision quickly.
  • The caller threatens you.

Scammers often target older Americans who are not tech-savvy and are more trusting and more likely to believe the caller and hand over money without questioning the motives.

10 Common Phone Scams

Although there are dozens of different types of phone scams, there are some pretty common ones most people have heard of or know someone who fell prey to it.

Social Security Phone Scams

Social Security Phone Scams

A caller says they are from the Social Security Administration, and your benefits are at risk. You must immediately provide your social security number, along with other details to verify that you are you, and also pay a fee for a new social security card or pay the penalty. Sometimes scammers threaten the victim claiming that their social security number has been used in fraud, and they are in big trouble. Complaints of these social security scams by phone are widespread among older populations.

The thing is, the Social Security Administration rarely calls anyone ever. They do not call individuals and ask for their information, especially not their social security number, which they would already have. They do not suspend or freeze social security cards or benefits, and you never have to pay for a new social security card or any penalties with the SSA. If someone calls even if the caller ID says Social Security Administration, it is most likely a scam. Social security scams by phone are some of the most prevalent out there.

IRS Phone Scams

Like the social security phone scams, another popular one crooks are using to bilk thousands from innocent victims is pretending to be from the IRS. Most Americans fear the IRS, so the caller represents themselves as someone calling to collect taxes. Sometimes these callers use robocalls to leave threatening messages that you will be sued or arrested within minutes if you don’t pay the taxes now. Some leave a number you must call back, and they expect immediate payment over the phone. Most people have received calls related to these IRS phone scams.

The IRS never calls anyone. If you have ever had any dealings with them, you would know they send mountains of paperwork, and things move at a snail’s pace with the IRS. They do not arrest people; they would send you dozens of correspondences through the mail before it got to the point of legal proceedings. Then it would take more months in court before you ever went to jail. The IRS never asks you to pay taxes over the phone, with a prepaid card or anything other than a check through the mail. IRS agents do not call and threaten you. These are criminals using fear to steal your information and your money.

Tech Support Phone Scam (Apple/Microsoft)

Tech Support Phone Scam (Apple/Microsoft)

Another common scam you see these days is someone calling from Apple or Microsoft, and they claim that your computer has been hacked or breached, and you need help right away.

These scammers may try to sell you software to fix the breach. More commonly though, they willconvince you to allow them to connect to your computer remotely by walking you through steps to open up the security of your machine. If you comply, you are essentially giving the scammer complete access to your computer and all your personal information. Often, they prompt you to download software that ends up being spyware or ransomware, and then they own you.

Fake Donation Calls

Many phone scams involve fake charities where the caller begs for donations to help some group or organization, and it’s completely bogus. You hand over your credit card or other types of payment, and it’s gone.

Before donating to any charity, check them out fully online or talking to other benefactors. Never give out personal details or credit card information to unsolicited callers.

Lottery Phone Scams

With this scam, you will get a call from a total stranger (who sounds excited) and announces that you have won a foreign lottery or a huge prize. Even though you know you didn’t enter any contest, the news sounds great! But wait, there is a catch; the caller informs you that you must pay taxes, insurance, or other fees to get your prize. It’s a scam!

Never pay anything to get a prize. Valid prizes and lottery winnings do not come with strings attached.

Grandma Phone Scam

Grandma Phone Scam

Late at night, you receive a call from a young man who says, “grandma, I’m in trouble and need help.” These despicable scammers hope the victim will fall for the scam by believing the caller is their grandson or some other family member in need of money fast. The caller assumes the senior won’t be able to hear just right, so they won’t recognize whether or not it is their family member. The scammer will then provide instructions on how to get the money to them quickly but beg the elder not to tell anyone. This way, they scam older people out of their hard-earned money and keep them quiet at the same time.

Never trust a caller on the other end of the phone. These are trained fraudsters who can spin a story to sound very convincing. Hang up the phone and call your grandson or family member, and you’ll see they are just fine.

Insurance and Healthcare Scams

Many older Americans are on a fixed income, and insurance and healthcare are their number one expense items. Scammers take advantage of this by calling and offering discounted healthcare, deals on insurance or prescription medicine, or debt consolidation loans. Many older adults are more trusting and likely to jump at the chance to save money.

The criminals may be trying to steal money, or their intention could be identity theft, and all they want is information. Either way, give them nothing and hang up the phone.

Bank Fraud Phone Scams

One effective way phone scammers work is by calling and pretending to be your bank or a fraud protection department, and alert you to a breach of your bank account or unauthorized use of your credit card. When in fact, they want your account numbers and will say and do anything to get them.

Instead, hang up the phone and call your bank or credit card company directly to see if there is a problem. Never give out account numbers or any other personal details to someone who calls you, no matter what they say.

Amazon Phone Scams

Amazon is the number one go-to online shopping mall for everything from tires and clothing to food and technology. Scammers know how popular Amazon is, and they take advantage of it by calling victims and pretending to be from the retail giant. They claim there is a problem with your account, and you must reset your password immediately. In other scam variations, the criminal leaves a fake phone number claiming there is suspicious activity on your account.

If you engage with these fraudsters, they will direct you to go to other websites, enter payment details, and offer up your bank and other security codes. Be wary of this one. Amazon will never call you to discuss your account. Hang up the phone before you become a victim.

Website Password Scams

Website Password Scams

Some crooks call pretending to be from an online vendor that you use, asking you to verify your login or passwords. Unfortunately, if you provide them, now the scammers have access. No company will call you to ask you to verify your security details. Only when you initiate calls do you sometimes have to provide secret information to verify your identity.

If you gave out any information, immediately change your password and login details to keep your account safe.

Where do Phone Scams Come From?

Perpetrators in countries like Africa, Russia and India, target English speaking victims in America, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. Phone scams originated around 2008 and have become one of the most lucrative ways that overseas criminals make money.

What Can You Do if You Get Scammed on Your Phone?

You cannot be scammed by just answering your phone. However, if a scammer calls you and you stay on the line and give them any information, pay them with a credit card or other method, then yes, you are at risk. If you do get scammed, immediately contact the local authorities and file a complaint with the FTC. Some other steps to take are:

  • If you allowed someone access to your computer, update your security software and run deep scans. Consider having a computer expert look for hidden software and remove it.
  • Change all your passwords after being scammed. You never know what the crook might be able to get into.
  • Sign up for credit and identity monitoring to keep an eye on things going forward.

How to Protect Yourself

How to Protect Yourself

If you know how to protect your phone from scams, you won’t have to worry about them. Some tips to stay safe are:

  • Never allow anyone to take control of your computer remotely unless you know them well.
  • If anyone from a government agency calls you, hang up. Call the agency by using the number on your card or from a legitimate website and see if there really is a problem with your account.
  • Never give anyone personal information (name, address, social security number, mother’s maiden name, etc.) to anyone who calls you.
  • If someone threatens you on the phone, hang up immediately and call the police.
  • Keep in mind, you did not win a prize for doing nothing, it’s a scam no matter how good it sounds.
  • Never pay anything with prepaid gift cards or through a digital payment method unless you initiate the payment with the vendor.
  • Put your number on the Do Not Call Registry. Criminals will not honor this list, so you will know it is a scam if you get a sales call or other call eliciting funds.
  • Use call blocking and a spam app to avoid getting these types of calls.
  • Never trust your caller ID. Calls can easily be spoofed to look like they are coming from somewhere else.
  • Do not call back any, one-ring numbers - these are scams that charge you high fees for dialing a 1-900 number.
  • Never follow the instructions on a robocall, just hang up.
  • Never pay for shipping, insurance, taxes, and other fees for a prize; it will never show up, it is not real.

The number one way to avoid being scammed is to hang up on the caller. Or even better, don’t answer the phone in the first place. Let them leave a message, and then you can decide to respond or not.

How to Report Phone Scams

If you are a victim, it is essential to report phone scams to help the authorities catch those responsible, so no one else gets scammed. There are a few different ways to report phone scams.

  • If you paid the fraudster with a credit or debit card, contact your bank immediately to report the fraud. They may be able to stop the transaction.
  • If you paid with a prepaid gift card, contact the card issuer to report it. They may be able to get your money back.
  • If you used a wire transfer, contact the company to let them know. The two most common are MoneyGram and Western Union.

Contact the FTC and file a formal complaint. Give them the number used to call you. It will be added to a master database provided to phone carriers and tagged as spam. You can also contact the Do Not Call Registry to report the incident. You might want to consider contacting the local police as well if you lost any money.

Where to Report Phone Scams

The best place to start is with the FTC to report phone scams. From that link, you can add your number to the Do Not Call Registry and file a fraud or theft complaint. Their website is easy to use and walks you through the process. You can also call the FTC at 877-382-4357. Consider calling your state protection office as well.

Contact your bank, credit cards, and the credit bureaus to report that you are a phone scam victim. This will help those institutions keep an eye on things. You may also want to consider a credit freeze so that no one can open new accounts in your name.

If the scammer used a spoofed number, report it to the FCC online or by calling them at 888-225-5322.

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