Scam calls & how to handle them

Getting more spam calls than ever these days? You’re not alone. Fortune estimated that Americans would receive a total of 51 billion robocalls by the end of 2021. And many of these calls were spoofs and scams. Our voice manager, Will Zoucha, has a very particular set of skills—skills that make him a nightmare for scammers. And we’ve asked him to share some of his insights on the subject. Take it away, Will.

Knowledge is power. Here's how you can protect yourself.

First things first, it’s important to know that any phone number can be spoofed. With today’s technology, you can literally make the caller ID display any name or phone number. That capability was intended as a good and helpful feature (for instance, it allows you to display your name when using a different phone number or display your office phone number when using your mobile phone so customers don’t see your personal number).

The problem is that bad actors take advantage of this in order to misidentify themselves and trick you into trusting them, and unfortunately, nothing can really be done to prevent or stop it.

You can report these phone numbers to the FCC, but likely little will be done. Congress has attempted to pass laws to control robocalls, but with so many loopholes as of yet, these are largely useless.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is it’s pretty simple to protect yourself!

Be vigilant, think critically, don’t answer calls you don’t recognize, and never give out personal information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call. 

The best way to handle robocalls and scam calls?

Don’t answer them in the first place. If you don’t recognize the phone number, just ignore the call.

Why such a drastic statement? Because sometimes, once you answer a scam call, your phone number is green-lit by the scammers. Even if you don’t fall for the scam, it tells them that there is indeed someone on the other side of this number who can be a potential mark for future scams.

Maybe you picked up the call accidentally, out of curiosity, or because you thought you recognized the number, and it turned out to be a robocall. Don’t worry. The simple act of answering the call does not immediately put you in any danger.

However, once you realize that something seems “off,” I recommend you either: 

  1. Just hang up.
  2. Or ask them if you can call right back.

If this person is truly who they claim to be and the phone number is legitimate, they should have no problem giving you the number, and when you call it, you should reach him or her again. If the person is hesitant, seems skittish about it, or tries to keep you on the line, this should serve as validation that you were correct to be skeptical. Likely something suspicious (and potentially malicious) is up. Just hang up.

Some common topics and tactics

We find that scammers often stick to a few convincing tactics. We’ve worked with many good people who misplaced their trust, so we implore you to think critically. We hope knowing these will further help you to recognize potential threats.

First and foremost, note that these generally center on manipulating your emotions somehow (leveraging fear or excitement) to get you to disclose sensitive information. Fear in particular is a quick and effective way to get your attention. The caller might claim that you’re in trouble of some kind—with the IRS, with collections, etc.

Faux Support: A scammer will call and impersonate a support tech from Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, etc., claiming that you have a virus or other issue with your device/software/subscription. This is a very common scam and one that unfortunately dupes many trusting victims. Help us spread the word: Microsoft will never call you. 

Financials: Another scare tactic is impersonating someone from the IRS, collections, or your financial institution, claiming that you’re overdue or in debt in an attempt to collect your credit card information. The IRS will never call you either.

Fun prize: This one has been around awhile. A scammer calls to notify you that you’ve won something exciting—a large sum of money, a cruise or an all-expense-paid vacation, etc. They’ll then claim they need some of your personal info to claim your prize. Here’s where you need to be critical. If you receive a call like this, ask yourself “Did I enter any drawings lately? Is this a logical way they would notify somebody? Why would they need my credit card information?”

Now if you're getting bombarded with robocalls constantly, here are a few things you can do:

Use a screening service. A quick Google search for “call screening” will yield a plethora of options to consider—some free. Call screening will take care of answering your calls for you and vetting the caller before letting them through to you. 

Block the number. You can also block the phone number if it’s a repeat offender. However, just know that most of these types of scams have about a 24-hour life cycle, so it may not be worth the trouble to block the number (especially if you recognize that the phone number itself is a valid one, and it’s just being spoofed). It’s very rare that a scam lasts beyond 48 hours.

Develop a thick skin and ignore. As much of a pain as it is, just ignoring the call is a good response if you’d rather not put forth much effort into screening.

Bottom line:

Don’t answer calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize. Treat all calls with caution (even if they’re from a number you DO recognize). Never share personal information with a caller unless you initiated the call, as it is possible for scammers to spoof a local phone number and pose as a trusted entity. Make it a habit to be prudent, vigilant, and critical.

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