Avoiding scam calls is not just a question of convenience. Scammers prey on vulnerable people and aim to earn money through illegal means, so anything that reduces your risk and makes their work more difficult should be welcome.
Answering a spam call signals that you are willing to respond to scammers, which is likely to increase the number of scam calls you receive. Maintaining good habits can help keep you sane and safe from fraud.
Screen your calls
Pre-installed software on mobile phones is pretty good at spotting most spam calls. For callers about whose authenticity you are not sure, it can be a good practice to let those calls go to voicemail.
If it’s important, people tend to leave a message.
It also gives you an opportunity to collect their number and perform some research into the caller’s background. You can pump the number into Google and see what comes up and whether it has been associated with scam calls.
PhoneHistory is a useful site where you can learn details about the owner of the number, including their name, location, carrier, and how they have been using the phone number.
Scams prey on current events
Note that scammers often use the news and current anxieties to make their scams more potent. People are less likely to think clearly when afraid of some new development in the media.
Also, note that scammers also use a simple correlation between events and their scams to give their fraudulent activities the air of authenticity. For example, expect more delivery scams during the holiday season. Expect calls from fake IRS agents when it’s time to fill in tax returns.
Whatever the season, scammers will use current events to attempt to fly beneath your radar.
Scam calls are evolutions of classics
Fears surrounding coronavirus have much dissipated, but there is still uncertainty. Where there is uncertainty, there will be scams.
The Department of Health and Human Services continues to release fraud alerts regarding coronavirus scams that target people at their most vulnerable.
The nature of coronavirus scams makes them a particularly good example of scams to watch out for. Scammers often pose as officials and use a combination of fear and urgency to gain money and/or personal information.
Do not underestimate the boldness or resources of fraudsters. In 2022, scammers created fake testing sites specifically to collect personally identifiable information during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others made considerable sums selling fake testing kits online.
These scams have been on the increase year on year. In a romance scam, the scammer uses a fake or stolen profile to win the confidence of their target.
Careful not to meet in person, they normally work up to asking for a gift or money. Alternatively, they sometimes use the tactic of “accidentally” sending their victim money (a fraudulent transaction from a compromised account) and asking them to return all or some of it to a different account (their personal bank account).
Understand what scammers want
Scammers may sound like they are trying to help you, but they are trying to help themselves. Phone scammers are typically trying to get your personal information or your money.
Personally identifiable information includes your full name, date of birth, street address, email address, and account details. Anyone asking for such information may sound like they are going through a normal verification process, but these are also signs of someone attempting to steal your personal data so they can make fraudulent transactions.
With this kind of information, scammers can perpetrate phishing attacks to steal more information and gain unauthorized access to more accounts. Alternatively, they can sell the data directly on the dark web.
Understand scammers’ tactics
It can be challenging to avoid scam calls entirely, but you can end a scam call in progress if you learn to recognize scammers’ tactics. Phone scammers use similar tactics to people that launch phishing attempts, the most common of which are as follows:
- High-pressure: Ffraudsters on scam calls tend to raise the stakes quickly, applying pressure to make people act quickly without reflecting on whether the caller is authentic and whether what they are being asked to do makes sense.
- Individual selection: Phone scammers may try to get you to lower your guard by telling you that you have won a prize or have been individually selected. Similar tactics are used to encourage people to take part in surveys.
- Lack of identification or authentication: While a scammer is likely to ask you lots of questions about who you are (to gain your confidence and personal information) they are much more reticent when you ask them to tell you who they are. They are likely to avoid answering such questions and will provide no way to authenticate their answers. They might claim they are from the IRS or Microsoft to dazzle and disarm the recipient.
- Microsoft or IT Specialists: If the caller claims to be a computer specialist or calling from Microsoft, look out for claims that your device has been infected with a virus and that you need to allow them access to your devices to fix it.
- Demands for money or personal information: When it comes down to it, most scammers want money or personal information with which to get money. When the caller asks you for personal information or for you to make a transaction, consider how realistic this sounds and note that authentic businesses rarely have interactions like this over social media or on the phone.
Spotting robocalls is increasingly tricky. More and more fraudsters are using them, and they are increasingly sophisticated, making them harder to spot.
During a robocall, the dialing process is automated, but so is the voice that speaks to you. While many robocalls are just recorded messages that are fairly easy to detect, modern robocallers can listen to your responses and respond accordingly using natural-sounding language.
Look out for unusual delays and repetition. Be alert to the application of all the techniques mentioned above.
And if the caller asks you to press a button to be removed from their list, don’t do it. This is a technique robocalls often use and could result in an increase in scam calls.
It can be difficult to realize the person calling you is a scammer. Unfortunately, this is why more and more people screen their calls, letting them go to voicemail and then performing a little research to see if the caller is genuine or not.
Fortunately, technology is out there to help us separate scams from genuine calls. With the help of these technologies and our good habits, we can avoid giving scammers what they want: our money, our personal information, and our time.