According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they received over 3.2 billion reports of scams in 2019, with phone calls being the number one way people reported being scammed. More than $667 million was lost as a result of criminals convincing people to send money over the phone.
With the crime rate so high, it’s important for us to know how to detect these types of scams, and avoid becoming victims of fraud ourselves.
Types of phone scams
Although some phone scams can appear genuine, there are usually a few signs which can alert you to the true threat they pose. If you recognise any of the following, then make sure you know how to report the scam.
You will receive these as a text message or email. Their aim is to obtain your personal or financial information, through acquiring the usernames and passwords you use to get into online accounts (like your bank or social media). They may look like they come from a trustworthy source, but the biggest hint will be what they’re asking for. Banks, for example, won’t text you asking for important information.
There are other indicators, including:
- The message is sent from a public domain, like Gmail
- The email address is misspelt
- The message is poorly written
- It contains a suspicious attachment or links
- The message creates a sense of urgency, such as suggesting immediate action is needed
These types of scams will show up as a missed call. If you call it back, you could be redirected to a premium rate number, which can cost up to £15 per call. These scammers encourage you to call back by using a recorded message telling you that you’ve won a prize and need to contact a certain number to claim it. If you haven’t entered a competition, that’s your first indicator that it’s a scam. If you have, it’s worth contacting the company directly to check.
A common scam technique - you receive a text message from an unknown contact. If you type a message back or attempt to call them, you may end up in a premium rate call or premium rate SMS conversation. If you’re not expecting a message from someone, it’s best to ignore it or find a safer, alternative way to contact the company or person listed in the text.
You have just purchased a new phone and you receive a call from someone claiming to be from where you brought it from, trying to sell you insurance. If you follow through, you may unwittingly give away personal or financial information to a scammer, and end up with no insurance either. It’s best to search for your own insurance.
You may receive an email from PayPal saying that there has been a report of unauthorised access to your account and your service has been limited. You will usually be asked to click and follow a link, which will then prompt you to enter your personal and financial details. Banks can also suffer from similar scams. Remember: any money service will not ask for you to enter your details through a text or email link.
You receive an email saying that your account is to be closed, and are asked to open a link to confirm your details to stop it closing. Contact your email provider personally to find out what’s going on, as they will not typically just send you a spontaneous warning like this - especially if your account is quite active.
How to avoid phone scams
When your privacy is at risk, you can never be too careful. Being extra cautious and vigilant is the first step to avoiding phone scams, but there are other practical measures you can take to increase your safety against fraud.
Here are a few things you can do to avoid phone scams:
- Set up a password, PIN, or biometric security on your mobile phone. Biometric refers to measures that use biological security like fingerprint technology, face recognition, and iris scanning so no one but you can access the device.
- Don’t write your passwords or PIN numbers down in your device (in notes, a text or email), as these can easily be found or traced.
- If your phone is lost or stolen, report it straight away and change all online passwords from a different device as soon as you can.
- Do not respond to unknown numbers or messages you’re not expecting.
- Don’t click links, install apps or files from unknown sources.
- Don’t visit suspicious URLs. The easiest way to identify if a website is safe and legitimate is by checking to see if it has a green padlock symbol in the search bar. If the website does not have this, then exit it immediately.
- If you sell your mobile, then wipe it using a factory reset and remove your memory and SIM cards.
If you think you have fallen victim to a scam, you should report it straight away. There are multiple people and organisations you can report a scam to, including your mobile network, as well as well-known companies like Citizens Advice.
You can also contact the Metropolitan Police if you feel like you are in danger.
The UK has a national fraud and cybercrime centre called ActionFraud, where you can report a scam. You will receive a police crime reference number from them if your scam is confirmed.
If you have been a victim of premium phone number fraud, then you should also inform your mobile phone provider and PhonePayPlus, who regulate premium rate numbers.