We’ve entered a new era of technology horrors that we never intended. Mobile phones have moved from a snobbish accessory to a basic utility that no one can live without. And yet a phone in every pocket just makes us all easy targets for phone scams, text message spam, and random bot harassment. Certain classes of phone scams, such as swindles involving social security numbers, have cost Americans $19 million in the last year alone.
Spam call complaints to agencies like the FTC have skyrocketed in recent years. While law enforcement and other regulating agencies have scrambled to keep up, it’s clear that we’re all going to have this problem for a while before we get a handle on it.
Common Phone Scam Tactics
The variety of phone scams are as numerous as there are phones, but they all fall into a few easily classified categories. All phone scams hide their true identity, posing as someone else. The claimed origin of the call is often an agency of authority or big commerce – something the call’s recipient will recognize. Various scams claim to be representing:
- Social Security administration
- Law enforcement
- Credit agencies
- Collection agencies
- Relatives or loved ones
The scammer will claim to be from any these, and then pressure you for your personal identity details such as social security number, bank account numbers, passwords, or for you to send money in some form. These scammers want to pressure you into making a bad decision before you’ve had a chance to think things over, so beware of the following methods:
- Shocking news – In real life, nobody receives a random phone call that they’re being audited or have been placed on an FBI most-wanted list. If it sounds like something too far out of the ordinary, it’s usually a scam.
- Making threats – Ethical practices prevent banks, collection agencies, and even law enforcement from just threatening you over the phone with prison, blackmail, extortion, or other consequences.
- Insisting on resolving sensitive information over the phone – No official agency will ever demand that you share your passport ID, driver’s license number, bank account PIN, or other critical data over the phone.
- Pressuring you to act right now – Again, real-life never calls for a situation where you answer a phone call and have to make life-altering decisions in seconds. No warrant, claim against government benefits, bank investigation, or utility emergency works this way.
If You Receive Scam Calls…
The first thing to do is to use a reverse phone lookup service. This will help you understand the point of origin for the call – many of them come from overseas international numbers in countries with very lax laws about phone fraud. In most cases, you’ll likely be able to find the caller in online databases of fraud complaints, since scam callers mass-dial numbers.
You can check with your phone’s various services for call-blocking apps or services. All the major phone carriers and associated companies, from the hardware to the app level, have some form of scam and spam call protection. Depending on how stringent you want to be, you can even choose a whitelist app, which will block all calls from anywhere except the list of numbers you provide. Here’s a list of several phone security services provided by companies already.
If a scammer got money out of you via a debit or credit card, there’s still time to call your bank and ask for a stop-payment order on that transaction. Even wire transfers can be recovered by reporting the fraud to the service number.
Who Is Typically Targeted And When?
Seniors and young adults are by far the most frequent targets of phone scams. Criminals count on both these classes of people being naive and vulnerable to pressure tactics. Even though they’ll still call numbers at random, phone scammers can easily profile numbers based on social media profiles or other online footprints.
There are a few times of the year where phone scammers are most active:
- The holidays – People are off from work and more likely to answer the phone.
- Tax season – From about March to May in the US, people who receive large tax refunds are juicy targets. People who instead owe money to the IRS are easy targets for scams.
- Beginning and end of school season – Targeting new college graduates or new students, with pressure revolving around student loans and other forms of debt.
- During disasters – A hurricane report hits the news, and suddenly a “charity” is calling around asking for donations for the victim’s relief fund.
- Summer vacation – When travel and luxury are on people’s minds. A typical season for timeshare and vacation prize scams.