Phones are among the most common channels used for scams in the digital age. Mobile connectivity, increased app usage, and access to countless critical services, such as mobile shopping and banking, have all created lucrative opportunities for cybercriminals. For them, these handheld devices provide direct, real-time access to victims while allowing them enough room to shield their identities.
So, what types of phone scams are prevalent, and how can you safeguard yourself against them? Let’s explore.
1. Imposter Fraud
Impersonation techniques allow scammers to build trust with unsuspecting victims, making it easier to target them for identity and financial fraud.
Here are examples of elaborate phone imposter schemes you may encounter:
Fraudsters can pretend to be IRS officials and contact taxpayers to demand overdue taxes. They will often threaten to call the police or take legal action unless a payment is made promptly with a wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card.
There are many other variations of IRS impersonation scams. For instance, scammers could also call to inform you about a tax return. Under the pretext of processing the transfer, they could request personal information, such as your bank details and SSN.
Fake Lotteries and Sweepstakes
These usually involve a call announcing a substantial winning from a lottery or sweepstakes. However, to process the prize and pay taxes, you will be asked to transfer money to a fraudster’s account.
Fake charities can imitate well-known non-profits and pressure you to make a contribution over the phone. These are often prevalent during natural disasters and other adversities.
Sometimes, scammers can mimic someone close to you using voice-changing and number-spoofing technology. They will act as if they are distressed and in urgent need of money, hoping you will panic and transfer funds.
Fake Tech Support Calls
In this type of phone scam, fraudsters will request remote access to your computer to contain a hacking threat or renew a license. When you comply, they gain entry to all the personal data stored in your device.
Criminals could also impersonate financial institutions. They can, for instance, claim to have detected fraudulent activity in your accounts and ask you to verify your identity or confirm your online account username and password.
So, what measures can you take to avoid imposter fraud?
- Practice caution with unsolicited or unexpected calls and messages. Never provide personal information or transfer money based on phone communications.
- Be wary of anyone asking you to use wire transfers, cryptocurrency, gift cards, and prepaid cards for transactions.
- Pay attention to detail and ask questions. Just because a name sounds familiar doesn’t mean it is what you think it is. Take notes and research the organization to verify details.
- If you don’t recognize the phone number, find more information about the caller using PhoneHistory.
- When a familiar organization or person contacts you on an unsaved phone number, hang up and call them again using their regular number. This will help you avoid caller ID spoofing.
- Identify emotional manipulation tactics, such as threats and sympathy-seeking.
- Be suspicious of anyone exerting undue pressure on you to act. Reputed organizations will always provide reasonable time for you to consider your options and make a decision, whether it is paying an overdue tax or donating to a charity.
2. Fraudulent Telemarketers
Fake extended vehicle warranties, insurance policies, subscriptions, supplements, and similar telemarketing fraud cost consumers billions of dollars each year. Deceptive marketers can steal your personal information or money, sell fake products, or sign you up for paid subscription plans without your knowledge.
Therefore, never purchase products or provide your credit card information based on unsolicited marketing calls. Always take the time to research online, read reviews, and compare offers before making up your mind.
Scammers can devise automated calls to mine identifiable data or voice responses, which they can use for a variety of fraudulent activities.
So, if you ever answer an unsolicited robocall, avoid following automated instructions. For instance, never press numbers to confirm a menu selection or provide voice responses to opt out of a service.
Some automated calls are designed to keep you on the phone as long as possible. These would often involve an international call charge, part of which will go into the scammer’s pocket. The best course of action to avoid these is to hang up and block the number.
Downloading a caller ID app is also useful for scanning fraudulent incoming calls and blocking them automatically before you answer them.
4. SIM Swapping
When fraudsters get hold of some of your identity-related data, they can call your mobile carrier to inform that you have lost your phone. After providing the information necessary for user verifications, they will request the carrier to transfer your number to a SIM in their possession. This allows them to take over your phone number and access personal accounts.
You can avoid SIM swapping threats by adding an extra layer of verification for your mobile account with a PIN code. Also, request your mobile carrier for an email alert or callback whenever your account is accessed or details are changed.
Instead of SMS-based two-factor authentication, opt for an authenticator app to prevent fraudsters from accessing your accounts in the event of a SIM-swapping incident. And if you ever find your SIM blocked, remember to contact your mobile carrier straightaway.
5. Malware Attacks
Malicious software, better known as malware, can silently create trouble by tracking, collecting, and stealing personal information stored in your phone. It could get into your device via an email attachment, SMS link, files shared in messages, or even third-party apps.
A robust virus guard is essential for identifying and preventing malware threats. Keeping your operating system and other software up-to-date is equally important.
In addition, avoid unverified links and attachments and minimize the usage of mobile applications. If you need to use an app, ensure you select one from a reputed developer and download only from a reliable app store.
Phone scams can appear in a variety of ways. Impersonations, deceptive telemarketing, robocalls, SIM swapping, and malware attacks are among the most widely encountered frauds. Their consequences could be costly and may last for years. Therefore, build awareness, take preventative measures, and protect your personal information with necessary precautions to avoid and minimize their threats.