Phone scams are surprisingly common crimes that affect an enormous number of people every year, especially the elderly. The damage from these scams can be huge. In some cases, people lose their life savings to phone call fraud. Fortunately, knowing how to identify common phone scams and having a few strategies in you get a call can help you avoid falling victim to these crimes.

Recognizing a Scam

There are many forms of phone scams, which can make identifying them difficult. However, you can expect them to always make a promise or threat. In most cases, it will sound like it can’t possibly be true because it isn’t. Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Calling About a Prize: Did you win a contest you never entered? This is a common scam and almost always false. If you need to pay anything to get the prize, it is definitely a scam. When someone calls you to say you won $1 million and only need to pay a $500 deposit to get the prize, you are going to be out $500.
  • The IRS Isn’t Calling You: During tax season, this is a very common scam. You should know that the IRS doesn’t call people about taxes, they will only mail you. Similarly, no law enforcement agency is going to call you to say you will be arrested if you don’t pay a fine. They have official ways of conducting their work and phoning you out of the blue isn’t one of them.
  • The Pressure Is On: When someone is pushing you to pay up quickly, the chances are that it is phone call fraud. Anyone conducting legitimate business is going to allow you time to decide.
  • Don’t Believe the Caller: Don’t trust your caller ID (this can be tricked) and don’t believe who the caller is. If your bank is calling to verify your social security number, it is probably a scam. You can always ask to call back (with a number from a recent statement or another reliable source).
  • No One Wants Gift Cards as Payment: Many scammers ask for gift cards as payment because they are close to untraceable. They will have you buy a gift card code online and read it to them. This hides their identity.

Overall, the key is to be wary of unknown numbers calling you. Official business is rarely conducted via the phone. When it is, they will be okay with you calling back at another time. If a caller is putting on the pressure, be cautious.

What To Do if You Receive a Call

You can always hang up the phone. If the call is about something important, they will try to reach you again or let you call back. A scammer may also call you back but don’t forget that you can simply hang up if you aren’t comfortable. Don’t let anyone pressure you into staying on the call.

If you are uncertain about whether the call is genuine or not, ask to call back. When you do this, DO NOT call the same number back. Instead, look up the phone number for the institution calling you and use that. You can then ask to resume the call. Banks, government agencies and other entities have a call record and another representative will be back to pick things up.

Never give out your information to someone who called you. If your bank calls and needs to verify your identity, they will understand if you aren’t willing to give it. Anyone who isn’t understanding is likely a fraudster.

Finally, try to slow the call down. Scammers use pressure and speed to put people off their balance. Simply ask a few questions, request a moment to get some things together or otherwise make the conversation slower. In many cases, this will help you determine the legitimacy of the call.

Virtual Kidnapping

Although it is quite rare, one type of phone call fraud is especially scary: virtual kidnapping. This most often happened at the southern border but is now occurring all over the country. Someone will call you and say that they have kidnapped a loved one and demand a ransom.

Obviously, this is a very intense situation. Simply hanging up probably isn’t an option on the off chance it isn’t just a scam. Beau Dietl & Associates has helped many people with missing person cases. We can assure you that it is exceedingly rare that someone has actually been kidnapped. In almost every case, it is a scam.

The FBI has found that these calls often originate from Mexican prisons working with U.S. partners. They will often ask for gift cards as payment, a hint that it may be a scam. These are some tips from the FBI:

  • Slow the pace down
  • Call the police
  • Ask for verification in the form of a question only the alleged victim would know
  • Try to text or call the alleged victim

Remember that many calls are just scammers. Be cautious and stay safe.