We all know or have read of people who have been victims of phone scams. Maybe they were tricked into paying money or giving up their personal information. Thieves continue to get away with this sinister behavior because they’re smart and know how to change with the times. Staying a step ahead of honest consumers is their ticket to making money.
When it comes to unsolicited phone calls, first and foremost, always trust your instincts. If something doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t feel right, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam – and should be avoided like the plague. Here we’ll look at 10 of the latest phone scams, how they’re played out, and how to protect yourself, your money, and your identity.
1. Calls that look like they’re from someone you know
This scam is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Have you ever seen a familiar-looking number come up on your caller ID, only to answer and realize it’s not who you expected it to be? Sometimes calls from phone scammers will show up with your own area code and three-digit prefix. This makes it look like someone is calling right from your neighborhood. Upon answering, however, you’ll find it’s not a friend at all, but someone seeking your information or money – or both.
This is the easiest trick in the book to pull. Any scammer can use SpoofCard, a tool that lets you change your phone number on a person’s caller ID. “Just give SpoofCard your number, the number you want to call, and the number you want to show up in the Caller ID; SpoofCard takes care of the rest,” the company’s website boasts.
This type of scam worked well on unsuspecting people when what appeared to be the Bank of Hawaii made calls about a credit card offer. Victims shared their personal information and credit card numbers. Yet their information was really getting into the hands of thieves.
Next: Beware of even saying one word.
2. ‘Can you hear me now?’ scams
If you answer the phone and are greeted with, “Can you hear me now?” it’s important to know that it’s probably not a well-intentioned caller. And it’s definitely not the guy from the Verizon commercials. Whatever you do, don’t say yes. Some unscrupulous fraudsters will record your voice saying “yes” and then use the recording to authorize charges your bank flags as suspicious. The Federal Trade Commission has heard from hundreds of people who have gotten such calls. The FTC’s advice? Don’t respond to the question, and hang up immediately.
Next: This might be the biggest consumer scam today.
3. Tech support scams
Tech support scams have been popular in recent years. The way it often unfolds is you’ll get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft or Windows tech support. They tell you that viruses have been detected on your computer. To fix this, they say you must go to a certain website and follow its instructions. But these instructions will cause malware to be installed on your computer. As a result, the scammer can steal your usernames and passwords – and even use the webcam to spy on you.
According to Microsoft, in 2015, around 3.3. million people, many of them seniors, fell victim to these types of tech support cons. The cost? A whopping $1.5 billion. How to handle this one? Hang up the phone. “Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls,” said Courtney Gregoire, an attorney with the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit.
Next: This scary stunt renders your cellphone useless.
4. Cellphone hijacking
If you use your cellphone for things like email, social media, and online banking, you’re at risk of being hacked or robbed. Unscrupulous people who have only your name and phone number can sometimes convince an unsuspecting cellphone customer service rep that they are you. If the rep falls for it, they may grant them access to your account. From there, the thief is free to have your phone number forwarded to their phone so they can freely access your online banking, files, social media accounts, and more.
How do you protect yourself from this most heinous of consumer crimes? Set up a passcode on your cellphone account. Without this, a thief might not be able to talk customer service into helping him out. Also, set up biometric authentication. This means your phone logs you in only after scanning your fingerprint or iris via sensors.
Next: Better to not even say “hello”
5. Silent calls
Have you ever answered a call from an unknown number, and no one is on the other end? This is a new type of robocall where an automated system makes tens of thousands of calls to try and reach real humans. It then uses numbers where real people answered to target for theft. These robocalls are on the rise because Internet-powered phones make it easy and cheap for scammers to make such calls from anywhere around the world, NPR reported.
How do you handle these calls? As with many of the phone scams covered in this article, the best solution is to screen your calls and don’t pick up if the number on the caller ID is unfamiliar. This may help decrease the number of calls you get from unscrupulous parties in the first place.
Next: This fraud even got its own new name.
We’ve all likely heard of phishing scams, where thieves send emails to people, claiming to be the bank and asking users to click on links and provide personal information. Vishing is the same criminal activity, except it takes place over voice technology. It can be conducted by voice email. VoIP (voice over IP), or a landline/cellphone. A person receives a call, often created by a computer generation of human speech, claiming ironically that suspicious activity has taken place in a credit card or bank account. The victim is instructed to call a given phone number and verify their identity.
What if you get such a call? If you believe there’s a chance it’s legitimate, instead of calling the supplied phone number, call your bank or credit card directly and ask if they contacted you. Chances are, they’ll say they haven’t.
Next: A similar enough technique, but done through different means
Watch out for this one, as it’s reportedly seven times more common than phishing these days. It’s called smishing (or SMS phishing), and it uses cellphone text messages to lure consumers into sharing their information. The text message will provide a link and/or phone number for the person to click or call. In smishing scams, the phone number of the sender will often be a “5000” number rather than an actual phone number. Do not respond to smishing messages.
Next: When charitable dollars fund nothing but high salaries
8. Charitable requests
We’ve all likely gotten unsolicited calls from a seemingly well-intentioned person claiming to represent an honest-sounding charity with which we’re not familiar. It may be a supposed cancer research organization or a fireman’s fund. The best thing to do is say no – and save your donation money for a charity you know and trust, or charity efforts conducted by your place of worship.
A recent case helps illustrate why it’s important not to blindly give money to someone claiming to be a charity. In 2016, the FTC charged four national cancer charities with defrauding consumers of $187 million. They were Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, and the Breast Cancer Society. Directors were reportedly earning high salaries, while recipients of the charitable benefits only received 1%-2% of all money the collected.
Next: A lesser-known phone scam to be aware of
9. Utility payment fraud
Not only may you hear from fraudsters misrepresenting your bank or credit card company, but now you may also be getting calls from thieves pretending to be from the utility company. It was recently reported a scammer was making calls to customers of Tucson Water, threatening to shut off water service if they didn’t get payment. Tucson Water later confirmed it was not behind the call. Keep in mind that utilities typically do not ask for payment or financial information from customers by phone. Rather, they will usually provide written notice in the event a bill is late.
If you receive a similar call, never provide your information or payment to the person on the other end of the call. Rather, hang up immediately. If you are worried the call may have been legitimate, call the phone number provided on your utility bill to check.
Next: An often-overlooked form of identity theft
10. Medical identity theft
Imagine the utter shock of finding out thieves had used your health insurance information to get drugs, a doctor’s services, or even surgery. These days, it’s not just your credit card and bank information that scammers are after. If you can be tricked into giving a caller your health insurance information or Medicare number over the phone, criminals could use it to submit fraudulent claims.
If you have become the victim of medical identity theft, it could negatively affect your credit report and your savings. Be vigilant by not giving such information out over the phone, and always pay attention to medical statements that come in the mail.
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