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What You Need to Know About Spam Calls and 7 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Them

COVID-19 is limiting our in-person contact but expanding our need to connect over the phone. While families and friends call one another, celebrate virtual birthdays and catch up with children and grandchildren, there’s another group eager to join the conversation: scammers. Luckily, there are ways to fight back, including Scam Shield,  a set of free safeguards from T-Mobile, which can protect you and your family from getting scammed.

COVID-19 is limiting our in-person contact but expanding our need to connect over the phone. While families and friends call one another, celebrate virtual birthdays and catch up with children and grandchildren, there’s another group eager to join the conversation: scammers. Luckily, there are ways to fight back, including Scam Shield,  a set of free safeguards from T-Mobile, which can protect you and your family from getting scammed.

How big is the problem? Huge.

Last year, Americans were bombarded with over 58 billion scam and unwanted robocalls, making them the No. 1 complaint to the FCC. These calls cost Americans over $10 billion a year. It might sound like your bank or credit card company is calling with alarming news but quickly moves on to ask about personal information that, if shared, could mean trouble: bank account drained, identity stolen, credit ruined. Playing on peoples’ fears and insecurities is nothing new. What’s changed is the technology and tactics scammers are using to ruin the lives of people who have sacrificed and saved for retirement. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and you have the perfect formula for scammers to capitalize on misinformation and the public’s health and financial concerns.

How could this happen?

So far this year, Americans have lost over $80 million to COVID-19-related scams, and between May and June, coronavirus scams increased 70 percent. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scam calls have ranged from offering COVID-19 test kits to selling fake cures for the virus. Other callers claim to be government employees offering coronavirus stimulus checks.

Under normal circumstances, wouldn’t people be capable of identifying a scam within seconds? Maybe, but these aren’t normal times. The stress of COVID-19 may make us even more susceptible to these scam artists.

“The stress of COVID-19 has had a great emotional impact on us,” says Sandy Stillo, a psychologist and licensed professional counselor. “When we are emotionally drained or exhausted, our defenses are down. We tend not to process things as logically as we normally would.”

Where are these calls coming from?

About two thirds of scam calls come from outside of the country where the attacks are targeted, according to Pindrop Labs, a company that provides call center authentication and fraud prevention. An advantage of setting up call centers outside of the United States is that international phone fraudsters are difficult to track.

Here’s how one common scam works

One in particular involves gift cards. The caller requests payment, whether for a utility bill, an online purchase or any number of reasons, and gives the target of the scam the option of paying using a gift card. Sometimes, the scammer will wait on the phone while the person buys the cards. After the purchaser shares the gift card number and pin, the caller redeems the cards, and both the money and scammer disappear.

Scammers are eating the Sandwich Generation’s lunch

Scammers are becoming adept at manipulating people over 50, the so-called “Sandwich Generation” — meaning they are caregivers for their children as well as their aging parents. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year to scam calls.  Fraudsters claiming to represent charities seek funds, pose as military personnel in need of medical treatment, or offer to lower the parent’s credit card interest rates.

When a Sandwich Generation parent is covering their parents’ costs, in addition to their own family’s expenses, there’s great financial strain. A scammer calling with the promise of extra income or a quick payoff may be hard to resist.

“Anything that could potentially ease some of that stress is extremely appealing, says Stillo, “even though often their gut instinct and their logical brain tell them that something is wrong.”

Seniors are a prime target

Seniors beyond the Sandwich Generation are even more susceptible to scams and least able to afford the loss as some rely on social security, pension funds and the generosity of their family. Scammers may inform the senior that there is a problem with their Medicare account and request personal information or begin a relationship with the goal of capturing the person’s heart and wallet. Sadly, the caller may provide false hope when they congratulate the senior for winning a prize and insisting they pay a fee to claim it. These are just a few of the unwelcome calls that cost Americans over $10 billion a year.

So what can you do?

While scammers think of new ways every day to take your money, you need to take action to stay ahead of their game.  T-Mobile is the only cell-phone service provider to offer Scam Shield, a powerful toolset in fighting scam artists that is included in T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile and Sprint phone plans with no extra cost. Here are seven things you can do to protect yourself against those eager to prey on your fears and drain your finances.

1. Get protected with Scam Shield.

Scammers have a whole system for separating you from your money: They work in offices, read from scripts and have lots and lots of practice. So, why shouldn’t you fight back with an equally sophisticated defense? It’s called Scam Shield, and it attacks this complex problem from all angles with a series of moves designed to stop scammers in their tracks, give you more information about who’s calling and protect your personal information.

T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers can download Scam Shield on App Store or Google Play. To turn on Scam Block right now, T-Mobile and Metro customers can simply dial #662# to tell T-Mobile’s network to stop those calls before they ever reach your phone.

And now that Sprint is a part of T-Mobile, Sprint customers will also get free protection to identify and block scam and unwanted robocalls, in the upgraded Call Screener app which was previously $2.99 per line per month. With a whole host of Scam Shield safeguards, EVERY T-Mobile customer — T-Mobile, Sprint, Metro by T-Mobile and even T-Mobile LineLink home phone customers — will get free scam ID and blocking.

2. Identify and block callers using Scam ID and Scam Block.

Scam ID from T-Mobile takes the guesswork out of who’s calling. You may not recognize the number from your child’s school or your doctor’s office, and scammers take advantage of this uncertainty to get you to pick up the phone when they call. Scam ID flags suspicious numbers by displaying the words “Scam Likely.” T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile users can turn on Scam Block to never see those calls again: Just dial #662# to activate this powerful defense or turn it on in the Scam Shield app. Sprint customers can download the upgraded Call Screener app for free scam identification and blocking.

3. Take advantage of Enhanced Caller ID.

Scammers are constantly devising ways to disguise phone numbers, a technique called spoofing, to entice their target to answer. They might be calling from another country, but the number that shows up on your phone seems like it could be from exactly where you live. To make matters more complicated, in the era of COVID-19, you may need to receive important calls from numbers you don’t recognize, like test results or a call from a contact tracer. With Enhanced Caller ID from T-Mobile, you’ll be notified if a call is coming from a real person or business and not just a scammer.

4. Add a second number.

Just like setting up a secondary email account for e-newsletters or marketing promotions, or renting a P.O. Box to protect your home address, moving to a second number for personal calls while leaving a first number for promotions and scammers can cut down on the unwanted calls you get. T-Mobile’s PROXY number allows you to have a second number while you keep your personal number private.

5. Change your phone number.

If your phone number has become a magnet for scam calls, sometimes starting with a clean slate is the best way to handle it. When you receive more unsolicited calls and recorded messages than calls from people you know, it’s time to make a change. Changing your phone number allows you the opportunity to start over. With T-Mobile, you can change your number, free of charge, once a year, for any reason.

6. Protect your personal information.

Even with every precaution in the world, one slip-up can unwittingly reveal your banking password, your social security number or your credit card information. With the free Be ID Aware service from T-Mobile and the security experts at McAafee, you can get 12 months of free ID monitoring, meaning that if your personal information shows up online, you’ll receive an alert so your credit can be frozen and no damage can be done. This offer is available for a limited time only.

7. Be open with your experience.

No one wants to admit to being scammed. But if you’ve been scammed, let others know what happened. By sharing your story, you could help someone else avoid a similar loss. And you might even help the Scam Shield team at T-Mobile think of new ways to help protect you and the ones you love.

Scammers are always finding new ways to separate you from your money. By utilizing the right tools and strategies, you can better protect yourself from people you never want to hear from and leave yourself with more time to connect with those you do.