Every year, unsuspecting people lose millions to phone scammers. In 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported over 3.2 million fraudulent calls, which led to over $232 million in refunds to people who lost money. While you may think you are too smart to be caught in one of these traps, the truth is, fraudulent phone calls have become increasingly sophisticated. They are harder to identify than ever.
The best way to protect yourself against phone scams like these is to educate yourself about how they work. Once you have that understanding, you must remain diligent in keeping your personal and financial information safe. Below we'll review some common phone scams, how to spot them, and what to do if they call you.
Watch Out for these Popular Phone Scams
Below are some types of scams you are most likely to encounter.
Caller ID Spoofing
Caller ID spoofing is a tool criminals use to falsify the information that displays on your phone’s caller ID. They can change their number to appear as though you are receiving a call from a trusted business, government agency, or even someone in your contact list. By imitating someone else, fraudsters use a false identity to get their victims to share their personal info like their bank account number, PIN, or even social security number.
Prize & Lottery Scams
As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Prize and lottery scams often involve false promises of big prize money. However, to release the winning, they will ask for a payment to be made. This is usually requested in the form of a check, credit card payment, or wire transfer. While there are reputable contests out there, be wary of any that call you out of the blue — especially if they’re asking you for money.
Social Security Scams
Social Security scams usually start by impersonating the IRS or other government agency, and they will tell their victim their Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended due to suspicious activity. They then will ask the caller to state their SSN to verify or unlock their account. You should never share your personal details — including your SSN — with an unknown person who calls you unsolicited.
Government and Law Enforcement Imposters
If you get a call from someone claiming to be from a government agency threatening jail time unless a fine is paid, you are likely being scammed. If you owe any kind of fine or tax penalties, you will generally first receive several notices in the mail, and you will be given the opportunity to question or appeal the amount that you owe. Unlike government agencies would, scammers will often ask for money to be sent using a specific payment method, such as a wire transfer, a prepaid gift card, or sometimes even paid out in cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. Don’t fall for it!
Phone scams can also prey upon well-intentioned people. Disguised as a charity, they can trick charitable people into opening their pocketbooks for a cause that does not exist. Be cautious of any “charities” with which you are not familiar if they are contacting you. When in doubt, hang up and call the charity's direct line yourself.
Tips to Spot a Fraudulent Phone Call
It can be tricky to identify whether or not a call is bogus. However, there are some common tactics that will help you identify that call a call might be a fraud. Be careful anytime you experience any of the following scenarios:
- Caller demands immediate payment
- Caller threatens to arrest you or a family member
- Caller requests that payment be made in a specific way
- Caller asks for bank account, debit, or credit card info over the phone
- Caller makes unsolicited request from charities or fundraisers
- An offer sounds "too good to be true"
What to Do If You Think You Received a Scam Phone Call
If you answer a phone call, notice the warning signs, and if think you have in fact received a call that could be a fraud or scam, then there are some simple steps you can follow to keep yourself protected.
Put Yourself on the National Do Not Call Registry
The first step to stop unwanted calls is to put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. If you are still receiving unwanted calls after placing your number there, the chances are that they are from scammers looking to skirt the law.
Slow Down, Be Critical, and Ask Questions
If you answer a phone call and find yourself in a high-pressure sales pitch, try to slow the conversation down and ask critical questions. A legitimate business or charity will be able to answer your questions. They won't be afraid to allow you time to consider your purchase or donation.
Don't Be Afraid to Hang Up
If you feel like you might be receiving a scam call, don’t be afraid to stop talking. It is perfectly within your rights to just hang up the phone. You can always call back any real organization at their main phone number to ensure the people you are talking to on the phone really are who they claim.
Block Suspicious Callers
If you have answered a call that turned out to be a scam, block their number, so they can't call you back. Many smartphones now have built-in call blocking features that allow you to select when and how a specific number is blocked.
If you have been a victim of a phone scam or fraud, then report them to help prevent others from being targeted. You can report them online using the FTC Complaint Assistant.
Stay Protected with First Service Credit Union
Unfortunately, as COVID-19 has spread, scammers have treated the pandemic as an opportunity to fool innocent victims. At First Service Credit Union, we are doing all we can to help protect our members. We never share or sell your private information, and you should be wary anytime you receive a call claiming to be from us — especially when they are asking for private banking details, or if the call is received outside of our normal operating hours.
When in doubt, we ask that you hang up and call us back at our main number, (713) 676-7777, immediately. If it is a member of our team calling you, we will be happy to transfer you back to the right party.
And remember, if you do encounter someone impersonating the credit union, letting us know will help us keep all our members safe.