A Guide to Phone Scams and Protecting Yourself

Adam Alred • 06 Feb 2023 • 4 min read

Individuals with criminal intent frequently use phones as tools to scam people so they can steal their money and personal information. Every year, individuals and families lose thousands of their hard-earned dollars to scammers, constantly evolving and adapting their methods. While their tactics often affect older adults, anyone, regardless of age, can fall victim to phone scams.

Government Agency Impersonation

While many scammers try to keep a low profile, some are bold and aggressive. These scammers use government agency impersonation and pretend to be from government agencies such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or even the FBI. Even the phone number they call from may falsely identify the call as coming from the agency. Sometimes, the caller may give a fake yet official-sounding name to a non-existent government agency to trick their confused and alarmed victims.

With this scam, criminals often accuse their victims of owing a debt and demand immediate payment or personal information. Often, government agency impersonators threaten jail time or other undesirable actions to make their victims feel urgent.

Although these calls may seem official, they are scams, and one should hang up immediately. According to the FTC, government agencies will never call or text a person asking for payment or sensitive information.

Fake Charities

When scammers call for financial donations for charity or disaster relief, they run a charity scam. With this scam, the caller claims to be from a recognized charity and will ask for an immediate donation. When suspicious of a call from a supposed charity, it’s best to call back and check that they are genuine.

Job and Career Scams through Messenger Apps

Unsolicited job opportunities that require applicants to download a messaging app are employment scams meant to get information, such as one’s date of birth, signature, and social security number. The scammer, posing as a recruiter, has the victim complete an application to get the information after downloading the app. Career phone scams may also have victims pay for “equipment” they never receive.

Banking Calls

Banks are traditionally the target of criminal activity, and it’s no surprise that scammers use the phone to steal from unsuspecting individuals. A banking call scam is a scam in which a criminal poses as a representative from the bank. The scammer may spoof the bank phone number so that it appears to be the actual number on one’s phone, making victims assume the call is legitimately from their bank. The victim is told there’s a problem with their account or password or that there’s been suspicious credit or debit card activity. Ultimately, the scammer then requests one’s PIN and other banking information, supposedly for verification.

Banks, however, do not ask customers to provide passwords or other sensitive information over the phone, and one can surmise the call is a scam. Scammers use this information to access their victim’s accounts and transfer money.

In these situations, customers who receive inbound calls from their bank should keep the information private and instead hang up and call the bank directly to verify the call’s legitimacy.

Technical Support

Tech support is one of many things that come to mind when talking of phone scams. They are, however, a problem that people should know and avoid. Scammers call unsuspecting consumers pretending to be a technician from a computer repair company. When individuals pick up the unsolicited call, they’re told their computer has a virus or another problem requiring urgent attention. Playing off of their victims’ concerns, the scammer convinces them to give them remote computer access and demands immediate payment for services using a wire transfer.

Consumers must never give computer access to a company they’ve not contacted. Tech support companies aren’t monitoring people’s computers for problems and don’t call people by phone to warn about an issue.

Debt Collections

Debt collectors are often intimidating, but they’re not always who they say there are. People with or without debt can find themselves on the phone with someone who claims they’re from a debt collection agency. Phony debt collectors use threats of arrest and aggression to frighten people into making immediate payments over the phone. For most, if the individual doesn’t owe any debt, the scam will be obvious. People who owe money should never give out any sensitive information and should always ask questions about the debt and the collection agency. A scam artist won’t be able to answer questions or provide any detailed information.

Common Signs of a Scam

Regardless of the type of scam, some basic or common signs can alert victims, such as unsolicited calls and callers making too-good-to-be-true promises. Scammers often ask for payment after promising prizes or making threats. They may ask for that payment via wire, gift or prepaid card, or money app. Another sign of a phone scam is the caller asking for sensitive personal information like a password, credit card numbers, or one’s social security number.

When talking to a potential scammer, one should also be wary if the caller pressures them for private information they can use for identity theft. Ask questions and research charities, businesses, or opportunities to ensure they’re legitimate.

Steps to Avoid Phone Scams

The best way to avoid being scammed by a phone caller is to prevent the call. One of the simplest ways to avoid scams is for people to let their phones ring when they receive calls from unknown callers. People can also block unwanted calls by downloading call-blocking apps on their cell phones. On home phones, use call-blocking or labeling services. To stop robocalls, hang up immediately without following prompts or pressing any keys. Another way to avoid becoming a victim of phone scams is to verify what’s being said directly after hanging up by looking up and calling the company that’s supposedly made the call.

By Adam Alred

VP of IT @ VoiceNation