We’ve all picked up the phone from an unknown number only to realize it was an automated voice trying to scam us. Sometimes it's even a real person, who seemingly knows personal information about you. Though these calls can be alarming, there are a few basic tips that can help you stop scam calls for good and avoid getting duped by one.
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In 2018 The Washington Post predicted that in 2019, almost half of all cellphone calls will be automated. In 2019 alone, there were over 5 million complaints and roughly 3.6 million complaints of robo-calls, or, calls with a computerized message. Since this data is only based off of what was reported to the FTC, that number is likely higher. Investigative correspondent Mara Schiavocampo and security expert Bill Stanton appeared on The Dr. Oz Show on Feb. 11, 2020 to explain how scammers have learned to make personalized calls, what you should be looking out for, and how to protect yourself. Here's what they shared:
How Scammers Get You to Answer the Phone
Schiavocampo found that one of the main ways scammers get you to pick up the phone is by using caller-IDs that look familiar or are even personal. This can mean using local area codes, which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says you’re more likely to answer, or using the real numbers of legitimate organizations, like your bank or insurance company, whose names you’re inclined to trust.
This increases trust in the caller, Schiavocampo says, and causes us to think we’re speaking to someone who has power over us, or someone we should listen to. According to the FTC, those aged 60 and older are more susceptible to spam attacks via phone, but it’s possible for anyone to fall for a scam if they don’t know what to look for.
Remember, the Government Isn’t Calling You
Fake phone calls from someone claiming to be the government, such as the IRS, FBI, Social Security Administration, and more, often use words like “urgent” to scare you into making payments or giving up information quickly without much thought. Robo-callers posing as the IRS, for example, are known to often ask for large sums of money, or threaten jail time if that money is not paid through.
You should know that the government does not make personal phone calls. In the majority of cases, the government will send letters in the mail first regarding money owed. If a call is the first notice you’re getting, you may be at risk of a scam.
Call Your Family Members to Verify Scenarios
Family emergency scams are a common type of scam call. This is when someone calls on behalf of a family member in desperate need for money. They come up with elaborate stories designed to frighten you and make you agree to transfer money.
These callers will also often tell you to keep all information private, essentially asking you to keep the scam to yourself. For example, if a scammer is posing as your child or grandchild, and asks you not to "tell mom and dad,” there may be a reason. In these cases, it is important to call family members to confirm the story before giving money.
Never Pay Over the Phone
You should never pay anything over the phone. If callers request payment through methods such as a wire transfer, gift card, or Bitcoin, you can almost always identify them as being a scammer, says Stanton. Legitimate companies would not go about receiving payment in these ways.
Be Careful About What You Post Online
Believe it or not, scammers can get personal information from you relatively easily from social media platforms, so be careful what you post online. Don’t accept friend or follow requests from accounts you don’t recognize and try not to share too much of your personal life online. By looking at social media, scammers can find out what you look like, who you’re connected to, your hobbies, etc. All of this information can be used to scam you.
How to Avoid (& Report) Robo-call Scams
Stanton says the number one thing to prevent scams is to hang up. If you pick up the phone and hear an automated voice, do not engage with the caller and hang up immediately. Another thing you can do is screen your calls. Don’t answer any unknown numbers; if it’s important, someone will leave a message.
If you do hear all or part of a robo-call scam, don’t panic. Call direct sources (like your bank, insurance company, etc.) to verify the information you heard on the call. If you know it was a scam call, you can report it directly to the FTC through their compliant assistant. You can also call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
To block spam calls in the future, Stanton suggests getting an anti-spoofing app on your phone to block the calls or place yourself on the FTC’s "Do Not Call" list. You can register here.