We’ve all received those annoying phone calls at one time or another. But some are more alarming than others. Unsolicited phone calls can be separated into two types: phone spam and phone scams, with the latter being rather more sinister.
Let’s look at the core differences between phone spam and phone scams and what you can do in either situation.
Phone spam is the term we generally use to refer to telemarketing and other unsolicited calls from organizations trying to sell you something or get you to answer questions. While these calls can be a nuisance, they are generally harmless. That said, they can feel like a waste of time and in some cases, end with people buying something they don’t need.
These calls have been commonplace for decades and everyone has their own way of dealing with them, whether that’s hanging up right away, quickly letting the caller know you don’t want what they’re offering, or actually listening to what the caller has to say. Apparently cold calling still works, so it’s unlikely that we’re going to see these types of calls disappearing anytime soon.
Scam calls are more sinister and involve bad actors trying to dupe targets into sending money or revealing sensitive information. You either answer the phone and speak to the scammer directly or hear a voice recording telling you to urgently call another number.
While there are a plethora of scam calls doing the rounds, here are some of the more common types:
In these scams, callers pretend to represent a government department such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Social Security Administration (SSA). They’ll usually claim you’re in legal trouble, for example because you owe unpaid taxes. The caller will often threaten arrest or severe penalties if you don’t comply with demands which typically include sending money or providing personal information.
The name may sound innocent, but the grandparent scam is duping unsuspecting seniors out of millions of dollars each year. This scam typically starts with a phone call to a senior citizen, in which the caller pretends to be the victim’s grandchild or another relative in distress. The caller often claims to have been in an accident, or to be in some other sort of trouble that requires money immediately.
In a Medicare scam, the fraudster poses as a Medicare employee in a bid to obtain a victim’s Medicare number for use in insurance fraud. The scammer will use a well-rehearsed pitch, for example, stating that Medicare is in the process of issuing new cards. In the US, anyone over 65 qualifies for Medicare, so thieves have a well-defined demographic to target with these schemes.
These scams involve claims that there’s an issue with the target’s computer. The fraudster will typically pose as an employee of a software company such as Microsoft or Apple and offer to resolve the bogus device issue. In reality, they will try to steal money or information, either directly or by taking remote control of the device.
The best way to avoid falling victim to a phone scam is to educate yourself on the key warning signs and take steps to verify details. It’s also a good idea to be prepared to act in case you are duped by a caller.
It used to be simple to spot scam calls as you could check caller ID and see that the call was coming from another country (many of these scams originate in China, India, and various African countries).
However, scammers have gotten more savvy with technology and can make it appear that the call is coming from a local number. In fact, a tell-tale of a scam call is when the number is very close to your own, often matching the first six digits (the area code and the following three digits).
Bear in mind that any reputable organization is not going to call you asking for your password, personal information, or remote access to your computer. If you are unsure about the legitimacy of the call, hang up with the caller, and call back using a phone number you find through the company’s real website.
While it’s not entirely reliable, adding yourself to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Do Not Call list can reduce the number of spam calls you receive. In turn, this can help you more easily identify a scam call.
Using an identity theft monitoring service like Identity Defense can give you peace of mind in case you do unwittingly fall victim to a scam. Identity Defense will monitor your accounts and credit score and alert you if anything suspicious occurs. It will also provide guidance on how to recover from fraud and identity theft, even offering insurance covering up to $1 million in eligible losses*.
If you believe you’ve been targeted in a phone scam, report the situation to the relevant authority. For example, if you live in the US, you should report phone scams to local police (if you’ve lost money) and your state and federal governments.
*Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions, and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.
Editor’s Note: This article is written in collaboration with Identity Defense. Identity Defense is offering up to 50% off their service for US based Sixty and Me readers.
Do you get spam calls often? How do you identify a spam caller? Have you had a scammer call you? How do you react in such situations?