No one is safe from phone scams. Last year, $1.48 billion was stolen, and 5 billion robocalls were projected to occur in 2019. 

The key to avoiding scam calls is knowing how to spot them. Scammers typically pose as trusted entities like a well-known company, a government agency, or a popular charity organization, making it difficult to separate a crook from a legitimate caller. But if you know what to look for, you can easily sniff out a fraud.

Here are seven ways to protect yourself from phone scammers:

7 ways to stop phone scams

  1. Block telemarketing calls by registering your cell phone number on the National Do Not Call List. 
  2. Register for scam alerts at ftc.gov/scams. They’ll email you updates on new information about scam tactics, as well as send tips on how to prevent them
  3. Never take a call from an unknown number. If you do answer it, hang up as soon as possible. 
  4. Never respond to questions verbally or by pressing numbers or keys—whether it’s a human or a robocall.  
  5. Don’t share your private information such as your Social Security number, passwords, bank information, age, or address. 
  6. Never transfer or wire money or provide your debit or credit card’s PIN over the phone. Established banks and credit unions will never ask for your PIN verbally. Instead, they may have you type it out through your keypad—if at all.  
  7. Never pay upfront for loans, subscriptions, free trials, etc. 

If a company is trying to reach you, they can contact you in multiple ways (e.g., email, mail notice, etc.) in addition to calling you. You can always hang up and call the actual number of the company they’re claiming to be. Be cautious of callers who demand information immediately and urgently. Also, companies should offer multiple ways to pay your bills online. 

Recorded robocalls that pitch a product, business, or investment are illegal. If you’re not sure how legitimate the source of your call is, hang up and Google the company’s name. Adding the keyword “scam” or “robocall” to your search can help you spot trends and see if other people are receiving similar calls. 

Another critical thing to understand is that the caller ID isn’t always correct, nor does it correctly indicate if someone is calling locally or not. Scammers will often do what’s called neighborhood spoofing, which is when they call you from a local phone number. Your cellular carrier may even offer a feature which identifies phone scams. It checks an incoming number against a database of known scam phone numbers and will show “Scam Likely” on your phone’s screen. 

Remember, Caller ID isn’t fool-proof.

Don’t be fooled by frauds

In addition to over-the-phone scammers, you should also be wary of SMS phishing scams, suspicious emails (especially if they’re in the spam folder), and dangerous appsAs a rule of thumb, it’s always smart to use strong passwords and enable multi-factor authentication on your accounts. That way you can better control access to your email, bank statement, and other accounts.

When you do spot a scam, file a report through ftc.gov/complaint. The more phone scams you report, the more information law enforcement will have to identify the scammer’s MO and ultimately stop their operation.

Bailey Caldwell

Bailey is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on all things tech, cybersecurity, and internet. She enjoys researching and learning about new resources and technologies.

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