At this point, everyone has probably received a scam phone call (or a thousand). And by now, you’re probably savvy about more than a few of these phone scams. For example, someone impersonates your credit card company or the IRS in order to get your personal information, or a Social Security scam claiming your number has been suspended due to suspicious activity, leading you to recite it during the phone call. Unfortunately, scammers are only getting trickier and casting wider nets with newer phone scams, such as an automated voice trying to get you to say “yes” so that word can be used as a voice signature for fraudulent activity. That’s why the FCC recently created a “Scam Glossary” to alert people to the many scams out there—and explain how to avoid them. Always think twice about the information you give out after answering an unknown phone call, and report scam calls to the FTC if you think you’ve fallen victim. Get familiar with these 10 tactics to help stay totally clear of the many types of phone scams.
Phone scam 1: 809 scam
If you receive a call from a number with an 809 area code, it might appear to be coming from the United States, but they’re more than likely scam phone numbers. Those calls are actually originating from another country—the Dominican Republic, to be exact. The caller will leave an urgent voicemail for you, and when you call back, he or she will try to keep you on the line for as long as possible in order to make you rack up large international charges. Another problematic three-digit area code is 232, which goes to Sierra Leone. The best move here is to simply not answer a phone call from a strange number—and especially a strange area code. Your phone isn’t the only place that people will try to take advantage of you. Make sure you know these 10 common online scams—and how to avoid them.
Vladimir Sukhachev/ShutterstockPhone scam 2: Utility scam
This phone scam often targets native Spanish speakers and has scammers pose as utility-company employees calling to request immediate payment or they will shut off your service. The payment is most often requested through a prepaid card so the charge can’t be contested. If you receive this type of phone call, you should contact your utility company directly to discuss your account rather than making a payment with this person over the phone.
Phone scam 3: Auto-warranty scam
Most people don’t know quite when their car warranty or insurance is up, which is what makes this phone scam so universal. Here, the caller will impersonate your insurance company or pretend to be selling an auto-warranty service. But the problem is that in some cases, the scammer may have actually acquired information about your existing policy in order to make the request sound more credible. The goal of this phone scam is to get your credit card information. In general, it’s always a good idea to call warranty services and the like yourself rather than making purchases through an unsolicited phone call. In general, your car is a magnet for scammers. Be aware of these car-repair scams to watch out for.
songk/ShutterstockPhone scam 4: Neighbor spoofing
If you receive a call from a number that looks almost identical to your own, there’s a good chance it’s a phone scam. Neighbor spoofing is when someone calls from a number that has the same initial digits as your own, leading you to believe that it is someone local when it is, in fact, really a scammer. If you answer the phone call, they will try to get personal information or money from you.
Phone scam 5: Jury-duty scam
The perpetrator of this phone scam will pretend to be a member of law enforcement and claim there’s a warrant out for your arrest, which is quite the daunting tactic. The script will go something like this: They’ll tell you that you’ve missed jury duty and are subject to a fine that you need to pay by wiring money or using a gift card. Rest assured, the real police will never ask you to pay a fine by using a gift card.
HappyAprilBoy/ShutterstockPhone scam 6: Smishing
Phone scams aren’t just limited to voice calls, either. Smishing is short for “SMS phishing,” and for this one, you’ll be getting a text, not an actual phone call. In the text, the person will claim to be from your bank and provide a link for you to click on. When you do, the scammer will attempt to trick you out of money or personal information. Here are some more texts you should delete immediately.
Phone scam 7: Health-insurance scam
For these phone scams, you’ll get a robocall or one from an actual person claiming to work for a health insurance company. They’ll say they can get you discounted insurance, which often involves a “medical discount card” that ends up not being accepted anywhere. While this phone scam happens quite a bit during open enrollment season, it can occur year-round. Most of these calls are illegal, and you can actually file a complaint with the FCC if you get them.
aanbetta/ShutterstockPhone scam 8: Tech-support scam
One of the oldest in the book, these tech-support phone scams will ring you up and claim your computer has been infected with a virus. After this lead-in, instead of removing the alleged virus, the person on the phone will walk you through a process that actually places a virus on your computer. Just how common is this scam? Microsoft has estimated that around 3.3 million people are scammed each year, leading to an annual cost of $1.5 billion and an average loss of more than $450 per individual.
Phone scam 9: Recovery scam
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’ve already fallen victim to a phone scam, don’t believe it when someone calls and attempts to help you recover money from that scam. In a recovery scam, someone calls a person who has already been scammed and offers to help—but that help actually involves scamming that same person again. Don’t miss these 10 ways to protect yourself online so you never fall victim to scams.
Igor Vetushko/ShutterstockPhone scam 10: Back-to-school scam
Like all phone scams, this one targets people who are vulnerable—in this case, current or recent graduates. Here are some common variations on the theme: Someone calls a recent grad and offers a scholarship that doesn’t exist, or says they’ll help to find a roommate or a non-existent house rental. The goal of the phone scam is to acquire personal information, sometimes financial information, that is then used by the scammer.
Phone scam 11: FBI arrest/deportation scam
A helpful note: If the FBI is planning to arrest you, they’re not going to give you the benefit of a phone call first. But it can still be jarring to get an official-sounding call from someone claiming to be from this government office. In this phone scam, the caller will say he’s from the FBI and has a warrant for your arrest, or from Immigration and plans to deport you. The caller will ask for you to make a payment in order to rescind the warrant.
Phone scam 12: Google-listing scam
In this type of phone scam, a caller will claim that he can either add or remove your business on Google for a fee. The callers are not affiliated with Google, have no power to do what they claim, and are simply collecting payment for a service that they will not do. According to Google, while you might get a phone call from an operator for the purposes of development, customer service, or support, the caller “will never ask you for payment information over the phone or guarantee you favorable placement in [their] products.” These phone scams might be hot and new right now but beware of these more “classic” phone call scams that can steal your money, too.