One in three Americans experiences call scams, making it a widespread issue plaguing modern society. In 2022, the financial loss incurred due to them totaled nearly $40 billion. The cost of data loss is likely immeasurable.
Yet, only a few phone users are aware of the real dangers of phone fraud and take proactive measures to protect themselves. In this article, we delve into this prevalent threat to help you understand how you could avoid becoming a victim.
The Potential Dangers of Phone Fraud
Any phone user stands to encounter scams via calls, SMSs, and messaging apps such as WhatsApp. These threats can appear in numerous ways. Here are some of the common frauds reported in the recent past:
- Impersonation Scams
Imposters can imitate reputed organizations or even individuals you know well to trick you into disclosing personal information or to target you for financial fraud.
For example, you may experience impersonation fraud in the form of fake charities, IRS officials, tech support teams, lotteries, or travel agents.
This refers to a deceptive attempt to steal personally identifiable information (PII) such as your date of birth, SSN, credit card details, online account passwords, and the like.
These can be a menace when you are on the receiving end of ceaseless automated calls trying to sell you subscriptions and taking you through countless menus and messages.
But concerns over robocalls are not just limited to their spammy nature. They can also have more sinister intent. According to Juniper Research, losses due to robocall scams are expected to reach an estimated $58 billion globally in 2024.
Many people dismiss marketing calls as an unwelcome nuisance. However, misleading tactics deployed by telemarketers can often make them fraudulent as well. For instance, they may persuade you to register for a free trial that ends up tying you to a monthly paid subscription without your explicit consent.
Tackling Phone Scams to Minimize Threats
So, what steps can you take to avoid potential phone-related risks and ensure your safety?
Ignore unwanted calls
From robocalls to telemarketing spam, some unwanted calls are easier to identify. And when you do, they are best ignored. If you answer such a call by mistake, hang up straight away. Avoid following instructions given by automated messages or responding to questions raised by telemarketers.
Next, use the blacklisting feature on your phone to block and prevent them from calling you back. Of course, some fraudsters can employ thousands or even millions of unique numbers for their schemes. Call-blocking apps would be a better solution in such circumstances. They are able to detect and block most unwanted calls by screening them against spam and scam call databases. These are created based on numbers flagged by app users, making them fairly accurate and up-to-date.
Know who you are dealing with
Not all scam calls are apparent at once. So, finding out whether you are interacting with a fraudster or a genuine individual is essential.
Here are some of the steps you can take:
- Ask questions and clarify any unclear areas or gaps in what the caller tells you. The more questions you ask, the easier it becomes to detect fraud.
- Speak to others and research online to verify the information received. For instance, someone representing the lottery board may call and ask you to wire money to process a lottery winning and pay relevant taxes. But don’t just take their word for it. You can google how such prizes are processed and taxes are paid. Remember, doing your own research is essential for avoiding fraud.
- Search numbers of incoming calls on PhoneHistory to find who owns them. This will often allow you to identify clues that give away fraud. For instance, check whether a phone number is registered under an organization or individual. Formal calls are generally made using official numbers registered under the respective organization. If the PhoneHistory records show an individual’s name, then you should know that something is amiss.
- If you receive a call from an organization, use a search engine to find its website and phone number. Contact it directly using the general hotline to verify the earlier call.
- When the caller claims to be someone you personally know, call them back on the regular number you typically use to contact them.
Protect your data and wealth
Deceptive callers are typically after one of two things—your identity or money. So, taking measures to protect them from criminals is imperative.
- Never give out identifiable and confidential information without authenticating the source of the request.
- Ignore links shared via SMSs and messaging apps.
- Be mindful of payment requests that involve wire transfers, cryptocurrency, gift cards, prepaid cards, and similar methods that are difficult to trace.
- Do not give in to threats and other fear tactics used by callers demanding money or personal data.
- Safeguard your smartphone and computer from malware threats by installing virus protection software.
- Refrain from providing others access to your devices, remotely or in person, without your supervision.
- Regularly review your bank statements, credit reports, tax and insurance statements, and other critical documents to monitor unusual or unidentified activities.
If you receive any unwanted or unsolicited calls, SMSs, or messages that appear to be deceptive in nature, reporting them is important for preventing recurring incidents.
But whom should you notify? When it comes to imposter fraud, inform the individual or organization that was impersonated so they could strengthen security, alert others, and mitigate the damage.
Details about phone fraud should be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, too. Depending on the severity of the incident, you can also inform law enforcement officers.
And if you ever fall victim to a phone-related financial scam, alert your bank immediately. If you paid via a wire transfer or gift card, quickly contact the respective service provider to check whether they could cancel and reverse the transaction.
The sooner you detect fraud, the higher the chance of mitigating the damage. However, learning to identify and avoid phone threats is always a better option for ensuring your personal safety.