“Can you hear me?”
Pause before speaking if a caller starts by asking, “Can you hear me?” Scammers are looking for a specific answer, says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of Identity Theft Resource Center. “By getting you to answer ‘yes’ to that one question at the very beginning of the call—as opposed to somewhere in the middle of the conversation, where dubbing would be more obvious—scammers can record your affirmative answer,” she says. They can use that recording to claim you agreed to pay for some scam program. Even if it looks like the call is from someone you know, rephrase your answer to “I hear you just fine” to be safe, suggests Velasquez.
Don’t freak out if someone claiming to be from the IRS calls to collect money. Scammers use fear tactics and threaten to send the police if you don’t pay up immediately, but don’t fall for it. “The only way the IRS will get in touch with you is in the mail, on official letterhead,” says cybersecurity expert John Sileo. Even if the callers don’t ask for money, they could prey on your information by ask you to verify your identity. They might quote information you’d think only the IRS could know, like what you paid in taxes last year, but that doesn’t mean you can trust them with your Social Security number. Hang up and call a phone number you can verify online, says Sileo. This scenario is similar to this call that almost always means you’re about to be scammed.
The IRS will never call, but your bank might, which makes it harder to figure out if it’s the real deal. Plus, it makes sense that your bank would need to confirm your identity to protect your account. If your bank calls and asks you to confirm if transactions are legitimate, feel free to give a yes or no. But don’t give up any more information than that, says Adam Levin, founder of global identity protection and data risk services firm CyberScout and author of Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. Some scammers rattle off your credit card number and expiration date, then ask you to say your security code as confirmation, he says. Others will claim they froze your credit card because you might be a fraud victim, then ask for your Social Security number. Only give that kind of information out if you made the call—and don’t just use the number that contacted you. “Flip your credit card or debit card over, look at the number, call customer service and ask if you guys just called me,” says Levin. “They have on the computer if they did or didn’t.”