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Cybersecurity Best Practice Series: Phone Scams

landline phone

In this post we identify and discuss various phone call and texting scams for our ongoing best practices mini series.

According to Time, robocalls and phone scams are on the rise. A survey reports that in the past six months, 95% of 1000 Americans surveyed said they received a phone call from a telemarketer. Some of those calls were legitimate, but 69% of respondents say they have received at least one phone scam in the past six months. One in eight claimed to have received over 20 scam phone calls within the same time period. This number has jumped four times compared to people surveyed in 2015.

First, we will identify various phone call scams:

  1. Vacations and prizes - These are some of the most common phone call scams. Usually it's a robocall stating an individual has won a cruise or telling you to claim a gift card. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  2. Phone calls from the FBI, IRS, or any federal government agency - Federal agents will not email or call citizens threatening arrest or investigations. Additionally, they will NEVER demand payment or ask to pay taxes using a credit or debit card.

  3. Loan scams - advance-fee loans offered over the phone unsolicited are scams. It is illegal in the US for companies to do business like this over the phone. Lenders never guarantee loans in advance. Being asked to pay a fee upfront before receiving a loan should be enough for you to hang up and walk away.

  4. Debt Collection scams - Legitimate debt collectors will not threaten you with arrest or charges. If the collector cannot give you information about the debt or is collecting debt you do not recognize, there is a good chance it's a scam. Do not give personal information until you have determined it's a legitimate collector. You can ask them for their name, company, mailing address, and professional license number. Many states require debt collectors to be licensed. In Pennsylvania, collectors do not have to be licensed, however, there are laws on debt collection practices.

  5. Utility company scams - Utility companies will never threaten to shut off services unless you make an immediate payment. If anyone calls promising to help lower your bill or offer assistance and asks to review your account first, it's a scam. Never give out account information, and any company offering to let you pay with a prepaid debit card is not legitimate.

A final point to mention is that scammers can have the same area code as you. These thieves will spoof a phone number using voice-over-IP (VoIP) services. These services let an individual choose what they want their number to show up as on their victim's caller ID. It's best to not pick up and let these calls go to voicemail.

Text Message Scams and Smishing

Smishing is a phishing attack through text message. Much like phone and email scams, smishing uses social engineering to instill a sense of urgency in an individual. You shouldn't respond to texts requesting for personal information from a number you don't know, especially if it doesn't look like a phone number, for example, a four digit number. These tend to be email-to-text services which scammers are apt to use. Do not click on any links if you are uncertain who the sender is.

Short codes (usually a five or six digit number) are being used more frequently by businesses as marketing tools, and are used specifically for SMS or text messages. Twitter, Facebook, and Google have their own SMS short codes. It's best to practice a healthy amount of skepticism if you receive a text that is "off" or suspicious and delete the text.

What Can I Do To Stop Receiving Unsolicited Calls and Texts?

  • Add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry, which removes you from various telemarketing lists.

  • You can sign up for the service Nomorobo, which stops automated robocalls to your phone number.

  • Consumers have the choice to opt-out of marketing offers with companies like Acxiom.

  • Block unsolicited phone calls and texts.

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