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Sep 08, 2022 Brittani Johnson

Recognizing & Avoiding Phone Scams 101

Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Phone scammers will use every trick in the (telephone) book to steal your money or personally identifiable information (PII). With those details, scammers will be able to commit identity theft and fraud. Scams may come through your cell phone or house phone – yes, a lot of folks still have those – from real people or robocalls, often making false promises, such as opportunities to buy products/services, invest your money, or receive free product trials. Scammers may also offer you money via free grants or lotteries – often ones you haven’t signed up for. More sinisterly, fraudsters may call with threats of jail time or lawsuits if you don’t pay them.

Here's how to recognize phone scams:

No, that’s not the IRS…

Unsolicited calls from people claiming to be law enforcement or a government agency. They might say you will be arrested or fined if you don’t pay the taxes or debt right away. The goal is to scare you into paying without thinking twice. But remember, real law enforcement won’t call and threaten you.

And the winner is…

You may receive a call you saying you were “specially selected” for an offer or that you’ve won a lottery. But think twice! Did you sign up for that promotion? If not, it is likely a scam. And, if you have to pay to get your winnings, it is not a real prize.

Give me a second…

Most legitimate businesses will give you adequate time to decide whether or not to accept and will send you written information with more details before asking you to commit. Take your time to think things through. There is no rush if it is a legitimate offer. Don’t get pressured to say “yes” right away.

Will you be paying in cash or gift cards?

Fraudsters will often ask you to pay in odd ways like sending cash or paying via gift cards or wire transfer. Beware: anyone asking you to only pay via those methods – be it by telephone, text message, or email – is a scammer.

Can you confirm your Social Security number?

Never give out your Social Security number or other sensitive personally identifiable information such as your bank account information via phone, especially on an unsolicited or unexpected phone call. The IRS or Social Security Administration will never call you to confirm those details.

Scams can take a sinister edge…

Fraudsters will call alleging that your family member is being held captive with realistic sounds in the background of cries for help. Another rendition is the caller saying someone in your family has been involved in a car accident; however, they won’t be taken to the hospital until the damages have been paid. Both versions are intended to elicit fear and urgency in paying the ransom or fee without question. This is called a “virtual kidnapping ransom scam.” If the caller says the ransom can only be paid via wire transfer, or the call does not come from the alleged kidnapped victim’s phone, this is likely a scam.

How to Protect Yourself from Telephone Scams and How to Report It

  • Register your phone with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry to avoid unwanted calls.

  • While filing a complaint with the FTC is one of the best methods to protect yourself against telephone scams, we all know scammers won’t care if you’re on the National Do Not Call Registry. So, it’s also a best practice to stop unwanted calls by call blocking them. Call blocking is a tool used by phone companies to stop illegal and unwanted calls from reaching your phone.

  • Hang up on suspicious phone calls, especially those asking for personal information or payments.

  • Be cautious of caller ID. Scammers can “spoof” the phone number that shows up on your caller ID screen as a recognizable number and area code.

  • If you’ve lost money to a phone scam or have information about the company or scammer that contacted you, report it to the FTC at
Remember to always be wary of sharing any personal information online, in person, or via telephone. As a general rule, if something is too good to be true, it likely isn’t legitimate. Keeping this in mind is critical to keeping yourself safe from scams.
Published by Brittani Johnson September 8, 2022