Phone scams are on the rise, with a sharp increase over the last few years and a massive increase if you go back ten years. It has been estimated that over 600,000 scam phone calls are made every single week, and based on how effective we know those scams to be it’s fair to assume that they result in the fraudulent transmission of tens of millions of dollars.
In this guide we will show you the worst phone scams in 2018 and tell you all you need to know to avoid them.
The Most Common Phone Scams
Before we tell you how to avoid phone scams, here are a few of the most common out there right now. Pay attention, because you could be the victim of one of these scams in 2018.
Good Will Phone Scams
These scams are more common during the holidays, when statistics suggest that we are 40% more likely to give to charity and significantly more likely to actually be at home to receive the call.
The scammers claim to be acting on behalf of a charity or an appeal and they ask for money to be donated. They are increasingly using number spoofers to make it look like they are phoning from within the county or the state and it is even possible for them to make it look like a neighbor is phoning you.
The caller claims to be from your bank, your ISP, your phone provider or some other utility or service. In some cases the scammer will literally say “I am from your bank” but in the majority of cases they will say the name of a popular service, knowing that they will get lucky sooner or later.
They may claim that you have overpaid or that you have been defrauded. There are many other claims they may make, but they all revolve around getting you to depart with your money and/or your bank details.
A real service provider would have these details already and you should never give passwords, usernames, account numbers or bank details out to people who approach you in this manner.
This is one of the most common phone scams in 2018. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but people fall for it because they are pressured into a weakened state.
The scam begins with the scammer calling and claiming to be from the IRS. They say that there has been an issue with the victim’s tax returns (underpayment, incorrect data, etc) and that if they do not pay them money then the police will be at their door.
This scam exploits peoples’ fear at falling foul of the government and law enforcement and if that person has knowingly fiddled their taxes then they will be more inclined to believe it is real. However, there are many obvious giveaways with these scams that should sound alarms for everyone who receives them:
- The callers claim to be from the IRS, but are nearly always from India/Bangladesh and speak poor English.
- The scams ask that the money be paid via gift cards, typically iTunes gift cards.
- They get very threatening and aggressive, often claiming that the police are waiting right outside.
The Can you Hear Me Scam
In 2017 an apparently new phone scam was reported on by many news outlets. It was claimed that the scammers phoned people, waited for the line to open and then asked, “Can You Hear Me?”. The story goes that they would then record the victim’s reply and use it to authorize all kind of charges.
But there are some issues with this story, namely the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any payment system out there that only requires a person’s phone number and spoken consent. Voice recognition certainly exists, but “yes” wouldn’t be enough to pass any such test and it definitely wouldn’t be enough to make a transaction.
It is possible that scammers are phoning up and asking this question and it is possible they are recording responses, but it seems highly unlikely they will be using a single word to do anything worthwhile and more likely that the phone call itself is simply a recording and they are testing if the number works and how responsive the person is.
After all, if you’re the sort of person who says, “Yes” and then shrugs and hangs-up when it doesn’t progress, scammers probably aren’t interested. But if you’re the sort of person who persists for many minutes, asks all kind of questions and even spills your name, then they definitely will be interested.
Check the Snopes website for more info on this apparent scam. They have currently listed it as “unproven”.
Why do People Fall for Phone Scams?
To a savvy man or woman of the world, it seems illogical that someone could still fall for scams like this. And to an extent it is, but that would be downplaying just how devious these scammers can be.
As an example, a common phone scam in Europe right now involves phoning customers and pretending to be from their bank. There are only a few major banks, so they take a guess, knowing that they will have the attention of the customer if they get it right. They then inform them that there has been fraudulent activity on their account and that they need to rectify it by first confirming they are the account holder.
In a world rife with stolen IDs and bank fraud, this makes sense. The caller then tells them that if they are concerned about the legitimacy of the call they can hang-up and phone the number on the back of their card, which they do.
The caller then triggers an automated dial-tone noise to play, but remains on the line. When the person punches the number and hits “Call”, they reopen the line and pretend they have gotten through. At that point the customer is 100% sure they are talking to their bank and are at the scammer's mercy.
These kind of scams are one-offs, thankfully, but they do occur. The vast majority of scammers either target specific demographics, or phone around randomly hoping to find people who are:
- Not very tech savvy (typically older people in rural communities).
- Vulnerable (ill, lonely, disabled).
They could also just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if that happens then anyone can be a victim. Imagine that you spend all week searching for debt relief programs to no avail. Someone then phones you out of the blue claiming to be a debt relief company.
You automatically think that they are one of the ones you contacted and they are making a callback. You go along with it, pay for the service they offer and then, before you know it, you’re out your money and your bank details.
How to Avoid Phone Scams
Awareness is key when it comes to avoiding these scams. By understanding when you are being scammed you can drastically reduce your odds of being the victim. One of the main reasons so many people are scammed these days is because they fail to see the catch. In other words, it doesn’t look like a scam on the surface, so they think it’s okay.
Another way to avoid phone scams and other scams is to understand just who they are most likely to target, when they are most likely to target them, and how to avoid them:
- You are most likely to receive a call from a scammer at between 3pm and 6pm on Wednesday and Thursday.
- Due to the times and days of these calls, you are most likely to receive a call if you an unemployed, retired or if you work from home.
- Scam calls increase during the holidays.
- Many scams come from foreign countries such as India and Bangladesh, but phone scams can also originate from the United States, so don’t assume you’re safe if you hear an American accent.
- Never give out personal information over the phone.
- Always question the motives of the person and make sure you’re the one asking questions. A real caller will have experience and training in customer support and will not get frustrated, a scammer will become impatient and even aggressive.
- Hang-up if you believe you are being scammed.
- Never give money or financial details to anyone who calls you out of the blue.
- Don’t assume that they are legitimate because they know your name, guessed your bank or because what they are saying rings true. They rely on this.