Ways to Protect Against Phone Scams

May 3, 2022

Are you getting a lot of phone calls or text messages from people you don’t know? Often, on the other end of the line is a scammer. And scammers use the internet to make calls from all over the world to steal money or personal information. For many people, scam calls are a source of anxiety or annoyance. To protect yourself, you can take steps to help stop scam calls.

No matter how smart you are, scam artists know how to find your weak spots. And they are really, really good at it. Also, the criminals are persistent. If you answer the phone and talk to them, they may be encouraged to call back. Every year, people report identity theft, bad business practices, and fraud to law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In fact, the FTC says that:

  • In 2021, over 2.8 million people reported fraud.
  • One out of four people who reported fraud also lost money.
  • The average loss for scams that begin with a phone call is $1,200.

Most Common Types of Phone Scams

Typically, phone scams prey on people’s fear or generosity. Scam artists have refined their pitch and use made-up numbers to make calls sound legitimate. While there are many different scenarios, the following phone scams are among the most common:

  • Threatening calls from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) demanding payment and threatening lawsuits or arrest
  • Technical support calls with the caller claiming to have detected an error on your computer
  • Fake appeals from charities or nonprofits after a natural disaster or tragedy
  • Lottery scams saying you have been randomly selected and need to pay taxes on winnings
  • Family members in trouble who need quick payment over the phone
  • Bank fraud calls alerting you about potential bank account fraud
  • Insurance, debt, or healthcare scams offering warranties and debt consolidation or asking for health insurance information confirmation
  • Website password scams requesting identity verification
  • Other urgent requests

To stop scam calls like these, the first thing to do is hang up and don’t interact with the caller. If you are unsure about a call you receive from a business, call that company directly to ask if they requested information. Also, while IRS phone scams sound official, they will not call by phone. Instead, the IRS almost always uses the US Postal System to make first contact. And they never demand money over the phone.

Other Red Flags

Additionally, recognizing other warning signs that the person on the other end of a call or text is a scammer is often the first step to stop scam calls. The scammer may:

  • Pretend they’re from a familiar organization
  • Claim there’s a prize or a problem
  • Pressure you to take action right away
  • Want you to pay a certain way (i.e., gift card, wire transfer, credit card, etc.)

7 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information & Money

The FTC recommends the following tips to avoid and stop scam calls:

  1. Block unwanted texts and calls through your phone company or mobile apps.
  2. Use the National Do Not Call Registry to register your number for free.
  3. If you answer a robocall, hang up immediately.
  4. Screen calls from unknown numbers and don’t answer them.
  5. Never give your financial or personal information over the phone to a request you didn’t expect.
  6. Don’t “act immediately” because legitimate businesses will give you time to provide payment or make a decision.
  7. Even if a message is from a known company and seems real, don’t click on any text links.

Even though anyone is susceptible to falling for a scam, seniors are often targeted because they are trusting. Having a conversation with an older loved one can help prepare them to be on the lookout. And if you receive a suspicious text or call and are unsure about it, talk to a trusted individual to help you evaluate the call’s source.

How to Report an Incident

If you identify a scam or have given money to a scammer, contact the FTC to report the incident. You can file a consumer complaint online or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Also, if your social security number has been compromised, contact the three credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Transunion) to request fraud protections on your credit reports.

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