As you may know, the internet can be a dangerous place sometimes. Scammers never rest, and they are out to get your money, personal data, or both. So if you ever receive an email from a Nigerian prince asking for your help in transferring a gazillion dollars out his country, don’t reply to it. As much as you would like to believe that you’ll get rich overnight with the help of a stranger, the chances of that happening are slim to none. Sorry about that.
But the internet isn’t the only place where scammers prey on innocent victims. Some of them still like to do things the old fashioned way, calling people up with some made up stories that might get you to reveal your financial or other sensitive data.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common phone scams today. We’ll also give you a few tips on how to know when the person you’re talking to has bad intentions and how to protect yourself. Without further delay, let’s get started and take a closer look at the most common phone scams.
The most common phone scams
1. The Department of Homeland Security scam
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has issued a warning about phone scams in which its hotline number is being used — 1-800-323-8603.
Here’s how it works. A scammer calls you and pretends to work for the US Immigration office and alters the caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from the number mentioned above. You’ll then hear all sorts of stories including that you have been a victim of an identity theft and must verify your personal data over the phone.
This data includes your Social Security number, date of birth, as well as credit card info. The information provided is then used by the scammer to steal your identity and get access to the funds in your bank account.
2. The FBI scam
With this phone scam, the fraudster is trying to scare you by pretending to be an FBI agent, saying that you’re in a lot of trouble. You’ll be accused of breaking the law in one way or another and then demanded to pay a fee right away. If you don’t, the FBI will come to your door, arrest you, and take you to jail.
To make sure the call looks legitimate, the scammer spoofs the phone number of the local FBI office to make it look like that’s where it’s coming from. The majority of people probably won’t fall for this one, as getting a call from the FBI demanding you pay up for something you probably know you didn’t do seems too strange to be true.
However, some people get scared quickly once they hear the possible consequences and decide it’s probably just best to stay on the safe side of things and pay the fee. Don’t be one of them!
3. The IRS scam
This one is actually quite similar to the FBI scam described above. The main difference is that the caller will pretend to be IRS representative. You’ll be told that two certified letters were sent to your address but were returned back as undeliverable.
The story is that you owe the IRS a certain amount of money and you have to pay up immediately to avoid an arrest and going to jail. The fraudster demands you provide your credit card info over the phone, which is then used to drain your bank account.
The scammer will try to scare and pressure you into paying the fee with various methods, so it is important that you stay calm and really think things through. Some of these guys are good and can be very persuasive, trust me. You’ll also likely be told not to contact an attorney or your local IRS office, which is a clear sign that this is a scam.
4. The call back scam
This is a clever scam that will quickly take money out of your pocket if you’re not careful. Here’s how it works. The scammer will dial your number, wait for your phone to ring, and then quickly hang up. Alternatively, the fraudster just might wait until you actually answer before hanging up.
Because you’re a curious person and want to find out who exactly called you and why, you decide to call back. That’s what normal people do, right? Well, in most that’s true, but not in all of them.
The problem is that the phone number you call back is actually international and you’ll be charged a premium connection fee and rate. The scammer will also try to keep you on the line as long as possible with a few transfers and other sneaky methods.
5. The “Can you hear me?” scam
This is one of those phone scams that is kind of hard to avoid, as it’s performed extremely quickly. The scammer calls you and as soon as you pick up and say hello, you’ll hear the question “Can you hear me?” repeated a few times.
If you’re like most people, you’ll just say “Yes” without thinking too much about it. The problem is that the fraudster actually recorded your response and might be able to use it against you. The scammer likely already has your financial details that can be used to make purchases with. If you dispute the charge, there’s a recording of you saying yes that makes it look like you have authorized the transaction.
This is one of the latest scams out there and is quite common in the US, UK, as well as other countries including Australia. The FTC has issued a warning saying that if someone asks, “Can you hear me?” when you pick up the phone, don’t say a word and hang up immediately.
6. The bank scam
When it comes to phone scams, the bank scam is an old and a popular one. The fraudster will call you up claiming to work for the bank you do business with. Different scammers will use different stories, but all will have the same end goal in mind.
The most common story is that something is wrong with your account and that to stay on the safe side of things, you have to confirm some basic information. You’ll be asked about your credit card information and maybe even the login details for your online bank. If you give the fraudster all the info requested, you’ll soon realize that your bank account has been drained.
The bank scam is also very popular online. Fraudsters go as far as setting up a website that looks identical to that of your bank but has a slightly different URL. You get an email or even a text message to your phone with a link to the website saying that you should sign in and check something important. Once you do, the scammers have your login info and can transfer the money from your account into theirs.
7. The free vacation scam
Everybody wants a free vacation, right? That’s why this phone scam likely has a pretty high success rate. You get a call from someone saying that you entered a raffle and were selected as the winner. The main prize is a free vacation to some tropical island for your whole family that’s valued at a few thousand dollars.
The fraudster then wants to paint a picture in your mind and get you excited by saying you’ll be staying in a luxury five-star hotel right next to a beautiful sandy beach. However, to get the prize, you have to pay a standard tax of “just” a few hundred dollars.
Of course, after you pay up, you realize that the whole thing was a scam. You know what they say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
8. The Microsoft tech support scam
This is one of the oldest phone scams in the book. The fraudster, pretending to be a Microsoft employee, calls you up saying that your computer has been sending error messages and has a virus.
The fraudster will ask for remote access to your computer to try to figure out exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. This might give him access to any sensitive data you have stored on your PC. The scammer may also try to convince you to buy software that will fix your non-existent PC problems and to share your credit card info over the phone.
There are many different ways criminals try to take advantage of you with this scam. One of them has recently called a senior security researcher from Malwarebytes who obviously knows all about it and has decided to play along. What’s more, he recorded the whole thing, which you can check out in the video below.
How to protect yourself
Now that you are familiar with some of the most common phone scams out there, it’s time to talk about just how you can protect yourself if a fraudster decided to give you a call.
The first and most important rule is not to give personal, financial, and other sensitive details to anyone over the phone. It doesn’t matter who they claim to be, if someone asks you for your credit card info, simply hang up the phone. Banks, government agencies, and other institutions will never ask for your personal details over the phone.
You should also try to stay as calm as possible during these calls. Some of the fraudsters will try to scare you by saying that you did something wrong and will be arrested, while others want to get you excited by offering free stuff such as a vacation. Being scared or excited can cloud your judgment and make you do things you normally wouldn’t do.
Another great tip is that if you get a call from someone claiming to work for a certain company or organization, you can always check it by asking for the caller’s name, hanging up, and then calling the company back on the number listed in the phone book. That way, you can verify if the story you were told is correct, or if it is just another scam.
Also go online and check to see if others have received similar calls by Googling the phone number. If it’s a popular scam, you’ll likely find something online.
Please keep in mind that these are just some of the scams that are quite popular among fraudsters. There are plenty more phone scams going around. Although they might seem to be quite different from one another at first, all of them have the same goal, which is to get your personal or financial details.
So do stay safe by keeping the suggestions listed in the “How to protect yourself” section above in mind when you get a suspicious phone call.
Has anyone ever tried to scam you over the phone? Let us know in the comments below.