Since I’ve been working from home full-time, I can’t believe the number of unsolicited phone calls I get. I’m used to the e-mail spam, of course, but I had no idea that scammers would be working so hard to get a hold of my personal information, or flat out steal my money, via phone.
After doing some checking with the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Scam Alert page, I realized that many of the calls that I regularly receive are, in fact, scams. While it might seem obvious to me (which is why I rarely pick up the phone anymore without pre-screening the call), keep in mind that these scams often target the elderly, those who might not speak English well or others who might fall for intimidation tactics or false promises.
Those annoying, pre-recorded messages from politicians and telemarketers who use computers to dial thousands of numbers at a time are not going away soon.According to a report by First Orion, a provider of phone call and data transparency solutions, mobile scam calls have increased to 29.2% in 2018, from 3.7% of the total calls in 2017. The report suggests that scam calls will reach 44.7% by early 2019.In April 2018, First Orion testified before Congress at the “Do Not Call: Combatting Robocalls and Caller ID Spoofing” hearing in Washington, D.C.
You might already be on the federal Do Not Call list, but some robocallers have the technology and the chutzpah to ignore it and call you anyway. The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, had become outdated, as it was written in 1991, long before mainstream internet and mobile phone usage. And all robocalling isn’t bad – you receive such calls to remind you to pick up prescriptions, or receive a fraud alert from your bank. In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, allowing phone companies to proactively block fraudulent calls.
The FCC’s new standards are known by the acronym SHAKEN/STIR (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs, Secure Telephone Identity Revisited). They will permit carriers to verify calls with a digital fingerprint, to ensure the person making the call – and the person who receives the call – are who they say they are.
Prepaid card scams. CreditCards.com reports that scammers are drawn to prepaid debit cards because there is no banking or credit institution standing in the way of them and your money. In other words, if anyone ever asks you to send payment via a prepaid debit card to avoid a fine, that should raise a huge red flag that something is not on the up and up.
Utility fake outs. If you’re truly behind on your gas, electricity or water payments, chances are you’ll know. And if you don’t, you’ll most likely be notified by regular mail, not an out-of-the-blue call, email or text demanding payment over the phone to avoid your service being shut off. Other utility scams to be aware of are door-to-door salespeople who try to get you to switch energy companies, and ask you to sign a contract or provide information in exchange for limited time savings. If it seems like something that might interst you, the safe bet would be to ask for educational materials and tell them you’ll follow up after doing some research to make sure the company is legit.
Uncle Sam impersonators. Now that tax season is over, IRS scams are at their peak, with people posing as agents claiming that you owe taxes. Once again, you should never offer your credit card numbers or banking information over the phone since you never really know where a call is coming from. That being said, the IRS confirms that it contacts tax payers through snail mail, and never by phone.
Tech tricksters. Whether it’s someone calling to say that he detected a virus on your computer, or someone claiming that your warranty is up on a tech gadget, don’t be fooled into giving anyone remote access to your computer, or your financial information. I kept getting a call from a person asking to check on my Windows computer. I knew it was a scam because I only have Apple products. I told him so, and he hasn’t called back since.
Vacations and prizes. If you get a call or text that you were chosen as a winner to go on a paid vacation or that you have unclaimed lottery winnings, assume that it’s too good to be true. It’s probably a scam.
Whether it’s over the phone or clicking a link in an email, remember that you never truly know whether the recipient of your information is who he or she claim to be. And, if ever a caller asks for a credit card number, your Social Security number, or for you to wire transfer funds, take it as a sign that you’re being scammed.
If you’re ever uncertain, take the time to contact any company directly using public contact information to inquire about any communications it might have sent, balances you might have or to get information about warranties, recalls, or other consumer issues.
Apps that can help
T-Mobile’s Scam ID program and Scam Block is free for customers with a T-Mobile post-paid plan. When possible scam callers dial into your phone, Scam ID displays “Scam Likely” on your screen. Scam Block allows you to block those calls. Network level protection stops “neighborhood spoofing” from reaching your phone. T-Mobile is launching a brand new app, Name ID, that give you a voice in what types of calls you would like to block, such as calls from prison, political or fundraising calls.
Nomorobo is a registry program from a software engineer who won the Federal Trade Commission’s Robocall Challenge. Nomorobo is smart enough to ignore legal robocalls, like school closings, tornado and flood warnings, and physician and prescription reminders, and you can turn it off at any time if you miss the attention from politicians and telemarketers.
Nomorobo works by recognizing what’s called simultaneous ring, when a robocaller dials thousands of numbers simultaneously. The software intercepts and answers the call, and hangs up for you quickly enough that your phone might not even ring. That robo number is then blacklisted.
The app called RoboKiller is made by a company called TelTech. The company was awarded a $25,000 prize from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2015. Instead of focusing on the numbers, RoboKiller claims that it detects voice patterns – scammers change phone numbers but not voices. You can sign up for a 7-day trial here. TelTech also makes SpoofCard, an app that lets you choose any number to appear on a call recipient’s caller ID. Unfortunately, if you can use this app, so can spammers.
One of the problems with simply not answering a call from an unknown number is if you are waiting for a business call and unsure of the person’s number. You can’t miss the call, so you have to pick up. The Truecaller app lets you find out who’s behind that unknown number. Just copy and paste the number into the search bar embedded in the app. If the caller is a spammer, you can can swipe up to automatically block the caller. The app is free to download and use, but there is a professional version that can be bought as an in-app purchase and it costs a few dollars to use.
The Call Control – Call Blocker app automatically blocks spam calls and calls from other numbers you don’t want to hear from. You can add your own personal Whitelist and Contacts Protection to make sure people you know get through.You also have reverse lookup capabilities so you can track the source.
Should I Answer? This app will display the phone number’s rating as soon as your phone begins to ring, and blocks calls from hidden numbers. It never adds blocks to your personal contact list, however, which can save you a few headaches.
The free Hiya – Caller ID & Block app allows you to identify calls that you want to accept and block calls and texts you don’t want. The app is free – and is free of ads. Block calls, blacklist numbers and texts , and reverse search phone numbers. You will need to sign up with your Facebook account or your email address, and verify your phone number. The app quietly waits until you receive a phone call. Once you receive a call, Hiya will give you as much information as possible on the number. Scammer numbers are identified in red.
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