Protect yourself from fraud: How to identify phone scams
July 7, 2023
Phone scams are an extremely common fraud tactic. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data for 2022 showed that consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion dollars to phone scams – over $2 billion more than 2021’s totals. Scammers are becoming harder to detect than ever as they get their hands on new technology that makes it easier for them to fool you. They can even mask their phone numbers to show on your caller ID as a number you know and trust. Scary!
We don’t want you to lose your whole life savings to fraudsters, so we’re going to let you know what to look out for that could indicate a phone scam. In this article we’ll talk about:
- How to report a scam call
Common types of phone scams
Imposter scams are popular and effective tactics used to commit fraud because they rely on your relationship with people you trust, or legitimate institutions like Webster First.
There are several different known imposter scams going around. We want to make you aware of them and we’ll start by telling you the most important one to us – scammers pretending to be from your financial institution.
These scammers might call you from what looks like Webster First’s phone number. They will claim that they work in the fraud department and say there is an issue with your account that you must hurry to fix. They could pressure you to give them identifying information immediately out of necessity and rush you into working with them instead of reaching out to your local branch.
If you believe you could be faced with a scammer, going into your local branch to talk with someone about the fraud in person would be the safest course of action. If the person on the line asks you to read them a code that they sent you by text message, don’t do it. Webster First employees will never call to ask for your username, password, or debit card information.
These scammers will call you pretending to be an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and claim they have a warrant out for your arrest. They will threaten you with legal action like jail time or frozen assets if you don’t pay them. This is to play on your fear. The real FBI will never call and threaten your arrest or demand payment. This is an attempt at wire fraud.
U.S. Customs and Border Control Scam
This one is very similar to the FBI scam. These scammers will call you pretending to be an agent from U.S. Customs and Border Control. They will say they have a package with your name on it that they intercepted at the Mexican border, and it contains illegal items. Then they will pressure you for payment to make this all go away. Another attempt at wire fraud. Border Control released this statement about the scam.
This scam is when someone will call pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and claim you owe tax money. They will say that if you don’t pay immediately they will send police to arrest you. The IRS doesn’t call people for this, and they issued this statement about these calls.
This scam preys on elderly people with grandchildren. You will get a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild. They will tell you they are in a foreign country and you need to wire them money as soon as possible to help them get back home. If you weren’t aware your grandchild was traveling out of the country, you should already be on alert. Before doing anything, try to call your grandchild at their known number to make sure they are okay and confirm whether they made that call.
Tech Support Scam
The tech support scam is when someone calls you posing as a support officer at a known tech company like Microsoft, Apple, or Dell. They will tell you they detected a virus on your computer and need to walk you through the steps to fix the problem, or help them remote into your computer to fix it. No one is monitoring your computer use, waiting for viruses to show up. Once you guide this person right into your computer, they will insert malware that will wipe and steal all everything you have on it. This is one good reason not to keep any of your personal identifying information saved on your computer.
Kidnapping scams are very scary calls where the caller will pretend they’ve kidnapped one of your loved ones and demand you pay a ransom for their release. You may even hear screaming in the background of the call. Don’t panic. Before you do anything, try to contact that loved one to make sure they aren’t in real danger.
“Can you hear me?” Scam
In this scam, the caller will ask if you can hear them after you pick up the phone. They are recording your voice, and once you answer “yes” they will use that recording to say you agreed to some scam program. It’s best to hang up the phone or say, “I can,” if you’re unsure whether the call is legitimate.
As the name suggests, this scammer will tell you that you’ve won an expensive prize or vacation for free! But there is a catch. You have to pay taxes, registration fees, or shipping charges to get it. Once you pay those fees you’ll find out that there was no prize at all. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Debt Relief and Credit Repair Scams
When you pick up this type of call, the scammers will offer to forgive your debt, fix your credit score, or lower your credit card interest rates…in exchange for a fee. Don’t fall for this scam, as it could actually end up ruining your credit.
Business Offer Scams
It’s no surprise that business owners would be a target for scammers. You may receive a call from someone offering you coaching or investment opportunities for your business, with the promise of big returns. Don’t jump at the thought of receiving a large sum of money – think twice. Protect yourself from these scams by reading the FTCs article on business offer scams.
What to do if you suspect a call is a scam
If you suspect someone is trying to steal your banking or other personal information, our real fraud department has this advice:
- Ask for the caller’s name and for a phone number.
- Hang up and check any information they provide against trusted websites. If they are acting as Webster First, check websterfirst.com or visit your local branch to speak to someone in person.
- Contact the person or institution they are claiming to be through a verified phone number.
- Block the unknown phone number so they can’t call you again.
- Make sure you are signed up for our Card Alert Notification Program so you’ll know immediately if someone got a hold of your debit card information.
- Enroll in Mastercard’s ID Theft Protection™ program for free to protect your info and be notified of suspicious activity.
It’s in your best interest to not answer the phone for numbers you don’t recognize. If the call is important, the caller will leave you a message. If it’s a scammer, they will likely give up and move on to the next person on their list.
How to report a scam call
You can report scams to the FTC through their website. Here are some helpful links.
- If you’ve lost money to a phone scam or have information about the company or scammer who called you, report it at ftc.gov.
- If you didn’t lose money and just want to report a call, you can use their streamlined reporting form at donotcall.gov.
- If you’ve already paid a scammer and are looking for ways to stop the transaction, visit this article for solutions: Phone Scams | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)
- If someone calls and offers to “help” you recover money you have already lost, don’t give them money or personal information. You’re probably dealing with a fake refund scam.
- Visit this article for more tips on how to scam proof your life: How To Avoid a Scam | Consumer Advice (ftc.gov)
The FTC has many helpful and informative articles relating to scams of all kinds. Visit consumer.ftc.com to educate yourself so you don’t become a victim.