What is a “Phone Scam?”
A phone scam, also known as phone fraud, is when a stranger calls you in an attempt to get money or personal information from you by creating a fake scenario and lying about their real identity and intentions.
How to Recognize a Phone Scammer
Sometimes phone scammers can be immediately identified, but other times the story they create is convincing enough that it takes asking them several smart follow-up questions to call their bluff and determine they aren’t the person who they claim to be.
If you or a loved one has ever gotten a phone call saying you won a free vacation (but you didn’t recently enter a drawing) or you won a lottery (but you never bought a ticket), there’s a high probability that you were on the phone with a scammer. Phone scammers generally create an exciting, but false, scenario where they pretend that there’s a big prize they want to give you – all you need to do is pay a nominal “collection fee” or tax on that prize first. In reality, there is no free vacation and there are no lottery winnings. The magnificent prizes never existed. Once you give them your personal information or credit card information, you’ll never hear from them again – until they attempt to steal your identity or max out your bank accounts.
Another way many people fall victim to phone scammers is through fear. Instead of creating a fun, exciting story like winning the lottery, some phone scammers will pretend you are unaware of a potentially serious situation, and the only way to prevent catastrophe is if you give them money or confirm your personal information. One common fear-based scenario phone scammers will use is telling you that your computer has been hacked by a malicious person or virus. The caller might claim to be from a legitimate company, like Google or Microsoft, and they might tell you that the only way for them to help remove this potentially catastrophic vulnerability is if you can immediately confirm your identity by giving them personal information, like confirming your credit card number or social security number. Again, the threatening situation was entirely fabricated by the phone scammer – they have no way of knowing if your computer was hacked, but they prey on people who don’t have enough knowledge of home security systems to call their bluff.
Top Tips to Avoid Being the Victim of a Phone Fraud
- Never give your credit card number or other banking information over the phone, unless you initiated the phone call.
- Never give your social security number or other sensitive information over the phone, unless you initiated the phone call.
- If you’re unsure of someone’s authenticity, ask them to call you back at a later date so you have time to research and confirm their identity. If you receive a random call from someone claiming to be a representative of your banking establishment, ask them to call back the next day. Then call your real bank and ask them if the caller’s inquiries are legitimate or an impersonator. Your bank should be able to tell you if it’s a scam call or if the call came from one of their real employees. And a real employee won’t mind calling back the next day.
- Ask them for their information and ask them if you can call them back. Many scammers won’t give you their phone number or other information.
- Ask the caller qualifying questions. If the scam caller is telling you that you won a free vacation, ask them what first and last name and complete home address the prize was registered under. Those are basic pieces of information that most people would have to include on a prize entry form, if it’s a legitimate operation. Ask the caller to give you very basic pieces of non-confidential information that a real lottery or raffle operation would most likely have on file. If the caller doesn’t know, then definitely don’t continue the phone call.
- Never antagonize a phone scammer. It may seem like it would be poetic justice to waste a scammer’s time, or directly call them out and scold them for their unethical behavior. This can be extremely dangerous, with real life consequences. Scammers are unscrupulous criminals, and many are not above exacting revenge on people that irritate or embarrass them. As soon as you are convinced the call is a scam, end the conversation as quickly and amiably as possible.