Phone Scam Warning Signs and How to Protect Yourself

A phone scam, also called telemarketing fraud, refers to any type of scheme in which a criminal communicates with the potential victim via phone, including both phone calls and text messages (via Cornell Law School). This method is often effective, as reputable companies do legitimately use telemarketing to conduct business — meaning it can be difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what’s a scam.

Warning Signs

There are many different types of phone scams, but they always involve trying to get money and/or personal information from you. You’ve probably heard of the notorious Nigerian Letter scam, but others are not as obvious. Read below to learn about some common phrases phone scammers use (via the FBI):

  • “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
  • “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
  • “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
  • “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
  • “You don’t need any written information about the company or their references.”
  • “You can’t afford to miss this ‘high-profit, no-risk’ offer.”

How to Mitigate Your Risk

If you receive a suspicious phone call or text, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t provide personal information over the phone, even if the caller claims to be from a federal agency or a company you have existing business with. Verify information with the Better Business Bureau or another legitimate organization.
  • Remember that the IRS, and most other government agencies, will never contact you via phone unless they’ve first contacted you by letter (via the IRS). If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to ask for the caller’s credentials and verify them.
  • If you are asked to wire money, or use any other hard-to-trace form of payment (money transfer app, prepaid credit card, etc.), end the call immediately.
  • Similarly, if all the information you have was given over the call, it is most likely a scam. Legitimate businesses will be more than happy to mail or e-mail you information about what they’re selling.
  • Don’t click on links in text messages unless you know the sender.
  • Don’t pay for a “free prize.”
  • Educate your entire office on these practices, not just the person who normally answers the phone.

If you do have information about a fraud, please report it to the FTC by calling its consumer hot line at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).


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