Scam phone calls are on the rise. With lots of people either in lockdown or isolating at home, crooks will know there is plenty of easy prey out there.
And these scam phone calls are targeting both your landline and you mobile phone number, with the amount of scam calls on both rising dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
Scam calls are difficult to stop. They often originate overseas, which means tracking down the perpetrators and convicting them is an extremely difficult and slow process involving international cooperation between law enforcement agencies. And when scam call centers do eventually get shut down, more open in their place in an endless game of whack-a-mole.
Types of scam phone calls
It is not surprising that the ultimate goal for nearly every phone call scam is to make the crook money, usually at your expense. How the scammer plans on doing that can vary with each call, but most can be broken down as such…
Scare a victim into paying money over the phone. Perhaps the most direct method of stealing money from a victim is to simply demand they hand over money while on the phone call. This is usually done with scare tactics. For example a crook may falsely claim to represent law enforcement, your country’s tax entity or a company chasing money, and threaten the victim with hefty fines or prison time unless they pay some kind of fine.
Trick a victim into transferring money over the phone. This spin-off from the above method differs slightly because the crook, often pretending to be from the victim’s bank, tells the victim they need to transfer money from their bank account to a “safe account”. The crook claims this is because the victim’s bank account is compromised. However the “safe account” is actually just the crook’s bank account.
Fake tech support. One of the most prolific examples of scam calls is tech support calls, where the crook pretends to be from a technical support helpline, usually for a well-known company like Microsoft. The crook will lure a victim into installing malware onto their device and then charge the victim to remove it. The crook can also profit from the malware which can steal sensitive financial information from the victim’s computer.
Identity theft. Sometimes a victim’s personal information can be just as valuable, if not more so, than a cash payment. That’s because the right amount of personal information can be used to commit identity theft. Crooks will pretend to represent an entity that the victim trusts, such as their bank, the authorities or PayPal. They lure victims into “confirming” (when they are actually just revealing) sensitive financial information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers and PINs and personal data such as address and date of birth and even photocopies of documents such as passports. All of which can be used to empty bank accounts or open contracts in a customer’s name.
Advance fee scams. Most commonly initiated through email, these scams can also be started with a phone call. The crook tells the victim they have won or been awarded a large amount of money. However in order to receive the money the victim needs to pay smaller fees. For example the victim may be told they have a won a lottery or were the beneficiary for a dead relative overseas.
Fake investments. Simply put, this scam tricks a victim into investing in some type of scheme which the crook claims will make the victim rich. However the crook will either take the victim’s money and run, or they’re operating a Ponzi scheme where the only people that win are the people at the top, and everyone else loses out.
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Tips to avoiding scam phone calls
Don’t send money over the phone. Remember that the person on the other end of the line can claim to be anyone, but it doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth. If you feel like you’re being pressurised or threatened into sending money, hang up the phone.
The same applies to personal information. If the caller wants you to provide sensitive information or copies of documents, hang up.
If a caller requests you to keep your conversation private or to lie to family, friends or your bank, then it’s a scam.
If a caller begins threatening you or uses threatening of abusive language, hang up.
Banks, law enforcement and tax entities will not ask you to send money over the phone, or transfer money between accounts.
Remember that the call ID can easily be spoofed. Just because a certain number appears on your phone as the caller’s number, it doesn’t mean that’s the number they’re really calling from.
Remember that tech support companies don’t call you out of the blue. Don’t give unexpected callers access to your computer.
And finally, unexpected calls claiming you are due a large amount of money are always going to be scams. If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.