Phone scams represent a wide variety of scam calls, where fraudsters try to trick you out of personal information over the phone.
The problem has become so widespread it's been given its own nickname: Vishing, which is short for "voice phishing," or the over-the-phone version of many classic scams that result in extortion or identity theft.
While telemarketing and even scam calls have existed for nearly as long as phone service, innovations like the "No Call" list have reduced the problem. Yet, proving once again their adaptability, scammers have begun to overcome such blocks, learning even more tricks to separate you from your money and personal information.
As such, phone scams continue to be a big problem, responsible for roughly 40% of all phone calls made in the U.S. in 2019. And the pandemic has only exasperated the issue, with the number of scam call victims shooting up 270% in 2020, accounting for an average loss of $182 per person.
Still, there are some signs and typical plots to look out for that might save you from answering a call from a scam phone number.
Phone scams are constantly adapting, but there are still a few common red flags to look out for, including:
These represent the most common red flags of scam calls, but scammers can use all sorts of other tricks. Remember: The most important indicator is your gut. If something feels off, it probably is.
Scam calls can come in many different forms, with scammers adopting any number of alter egos to try to trick you.
Still, there are a few plots that get recycled over and over again.
Imposter phone scams involve the scammer pretending to be someone else entirely. They'll adopt the persona of a known and trusted entity, such as a government agency, well-known business, or utility provider.
They may inform you that you're eligible for a new program, that there's something wrong with your account, or that you have a bill due, among other claims. But all of these lines are just excuses to get you to divulge personal information that the scammer can use to steal your identity.
These types of scam calls represent an increasing problem, as more people have taken on serious student loans or credit card debt.
Scammers will call claiming to be from a company that can restructure your loan or offers some form of debt relief. This allows them to ask you for sensitive information you may otherwise be wary of giving out, including your bank account and credit card information. Of course, in the case of these phone scams, that information is used instead to benefit the scammer—at your expense.
This category of phone scam can include any number of calls, from cold calls asking you to get involved in a business or investment program (usually a pyramid scheme) to promises of "free trials" for a service.
These scams often include "too good to be true" offers and a lot of pressure to close the deal right away. The scammer will also ask you to pay or indulge personal information to "secure your place" in the scheme.
One of the worst types of scam calls is the charity call.
Taking advantage of people's desire to help one another, these scammers pretend to call from charities, asking for your financial information, only to pay themselves with your charitable gift. These types of scam calls are especially prevalent after a significant tragedy, when scammers may use the scenario as an excuse to reach out.
One of the most widespread phone scams of late, the "extended car warranty" robocall, warns you that your warranty is about to expire. If you call and talk to them, they say they'll extend the guarantee—but any information you give the person on the other end will go straight to scammers.
While technology has improved at detecting scam calls, making "scam likely" a popular pop-up on caller IDs, some scammers have learned how to hide their scam phone numbers. As such, it's still important to proceed with caution when answering calls—especially from someone you don't know.
Some of the best strategies for beating scam calls include:
If your number is not already listed on the Federal Trade Commission's National Do Not Call Registry, you should also sign up to help stop phone scams.
If you've already fallen for a phone scam, don't panic. There are still some steps you can take to secure your money and information.
If you made a payment or gave out your financial details, you should:
If you gave away any information you think could be used for identity theft, including your Social Security number or any sensitive personal details, you should also file a report with:
You'll also want to take the steps necessary to prevent and recover from identity theft as soon as possible.
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If you receive a call from Amazon about suspicious activity on your account, it's likely a scam, and you should hang up immediately.
This scam starts with a recorded message about an early (or unwanted) Amazon Prime renewal. To 'cancel,' you will unknowingly be transferred to a scammer impersonating 'Amazon.'
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If you receive a phone call from Apple Support, it could be a scammer attempting to steal your information and access your accounts.
Scammers are tricking people into thinking they're paying for subscriptions they don't want, in an attempt to steal your information and money.
A call from your bank isn't always legitimate—imposters pretend to represent your bank to steal your information and money.
In 2020, almost $20 billion was lost to phone scammers in the U.S. alone. With 165 million robocalls being made every day, it's hard not to be targeted.
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