Confidence tricks and scams are as old as time, but scammers are an adaptable bunch. Con-artists can be found in on dating sites, Craigslist/Facebook Marketplace, and, thanks to phone scammers, your pocket. Here’s how to identify phone scams quickly and put a stop to them for good.
With the omnipresence of smartphones, texting has become the preferred method of communication for millions around the globe. Some people refuse to even answer their phones at all; “text me instead” is the common refrain.
Unfortunately for them, phone scammers are more than happy to oblige.
The act of scamming via text is sometimes referred to as “smishing”: a combination of “phishing” (email spam) and “SMS.”
Smishing scams often trick people into giving up personal information by posing as legitimate institutions (your bank, the IRS, etc.) asking you to send along your PIN number or password, or businesses (Amazon, Gamestop) offering fake sweepstakes prizes like free giftcards or trips.
Phone scammers, of course, still target people the old-fashioned way and do much the same thing, but working through texts allows the fraudster to disguise his identity and hide his voice. (Some people also refer to these as “No Talking Scams.”)
Scammers commonly use fear as a tactic. A common smishing scam involves the victim receiving a threatening text purportedly from their bank’s fraud department, or even the FBI. The victim, scared that they could be in danger, agree to comply and pass along their private information.
From there the texts stop, the identity of the victim is stolen, and their bank account is drained. The scammer then disappears without a trace.
Out-Smart Phone Scammers with One Trick
You can easily avoid 99% of phone scams by following one simple rule: don’t ever share sensitive information over the phone with a caller you don’t know or weren’t expecting.
Institutions like banks or the IRS rarely (or never) reach out via text. Most texts you’ll receive from your bank are automated messages. Unexpected calls from parties with strange accents claiming to be with the police or your credit card company are never legitimate.
Ignore any calls that seem fishy, even if the name on the caller-ID looks legit (scammers can fake this too). Identify the source of the call before you share the least bit of information about yourself, even your favorite color.
How to Identify Phone Scammers and Stop Unknown Calls
The easiest way to identify who’s calling you is to enter the mystery number into a people search engine and run what’s called a reverse phone lookup. You might be able to get a full name, age, address and more. If you still don’t recognize the person, you can run a quick search on the name itself to get a full report that should include more information.
If you still can’t find anything, feel free to compare the unknown phone number with the “real” one. For example: if the caller or texter claims to be from your bank, visit your bank’s website and look for their official contact information (customer care number, address etc.) and make sure it’s a match.
If you’re still unsure, hang up and call the bank directly for confirmation.
If you notice yourself getting an alarming of such unwanted calls or texts, download a reverse phone lookup app to identify unknown callers and block them for good.
Scammers look to gain your confidence so that you’ll give up precious information about your identity. Don’t let them. Be tough and stay strong: they won’t stand a chance.