• Phone Scams:

    Phone scams are a serious threat these days as more and more people are becoming increasingly dependent on smart phones. They are used to not only manage their contacts but also their financial information. This has made us sitting targets for phone scammers. According to reports, the incidents of phone scamming have quadrupled since 2015 and this only takes into account the complaints that have been actually registered by people.

    Although, financial organizations and governments are trying to spread awareness among people about phone scamming but the condition has not improved much. The scammers are continuously coming up with new techniques of tricking innocent people of their money.

    In the coming paragraphs we will discuss about the various perspectives of phone scamming and what threat they pose to us. We will also discuss about the ways to avoid being scammed and where we can go for help in the event of any mis-happening.

    Dangerous Things People Can Do With Your Phone Number:

    There are many easy ways to get hold of your phone number. Fake calls, social media profiles, blogs etc are some of the many ways that can be used to get hold of your phone number. You must be thinking, that ‘What is the big deal about it’? Well, the way these people use your mobile number, will scare you. Here are a few methods used by scammers to trick you, if they have your phone number:

    • 1 - Fake MMS message with an embedded virus: They can send a fake MMS message on your phone that carries a virus that quickly gains root access (Windows, Android or IOS). The virus then quietly starts phishing out your data. It also starts corrupting your files from within. Overall, your data is compromised and your phone starts getting ripped off from within.
    • 2 - Phone Lock: We have already read how they can implant a virus in our phone. There have also been instances when they are able to completely lock your phone down with all the sensitive information inside. They then ask for ransom, generally in terms of Bitcoin (as the buyer and seller stay relatively anonymous on both sides due to the block chain technology), to unlock your mobile phone. However, there have been instances where people have paid the ransom and their phones or computers never got unlocked. They ended up losing their data anyways.
    • 3 - Spoofing: Spoofing, in general, is a fraudulent or malicious practice in which communication is sent from an unknown source disguised as a source known to the receiver. Spoofing is most prevalent in communication mechanisms that lack a high level of security. Any mobile number can be spoofed and can then be used to launch a DOS attack on other websites. Similar cyber attacks can also be carried out where your mobile number will be one among the many carriers of the attack, without you even knowing about it. This is dangerous as you can get into a serious mess without any knowledge or involvement.
    • 4 - LAN hacking: Mobile number can also be used in a sophisticated way to hack your LAN connection. Just imagine the amount of damage that can be done by controlling your internet connection.
    • 5 - Harassing/Stalking: This is another common misuse of your mobile number. Scammers can search your social media profile through your mobile number (if you have shared it on your profile). Through it they can gather a lot of your personal information, your friends, your family, profession, address, photos etc. These information can then be used to Harass you or Stalk you on social media and also over your phone. They know a lot about you, your family, your friends and they know how to contact you. Well, this can sometimes really get ugly.

    Why They’re Calling You:

    Now let’s discuss about some of the most dangerous motives of Cell Phone Scammers and why they are calling you? If you are not aware, you may be their next victim.

    • 1 - Phone Cloning: Criminals may steal your cell phone number through the various ways discussed above. They can then set up a new phone with that number and receive all your calls and text messages. They will virtually be sharing your phone with you. They can also contact your friends on your behalf and can send messages to your contacts. Through your phone, they can access all your saved photos, documents and passwords. They can then gain virtual access to your social media accounts and bank accounts.

      There have been multiple reports of such scams all around the World. The scammers collect information about you through your social media accounts and they already have access to your phone. They then call your mobile service provider and request for service change. They can also contact your credit card company and request for change of details. As they already have access to your email as well (through your phone), they can get around 2FA (two factor authentication) emails. All this can have a devastating impact on your personal and financial life.

    • 2 - Scam your family and friends: As the criminals already have access to your phone, they can send fake messages or make calls to your contacts and ask them for financial assistance. They can dupe them in your name, thereby bringing unwanted social embarassment to you.
    • 3 - Fake calls in the name of bank or Credit Card Company: The scammers also make fake calls on your number, saying that they are calling on behalf of the bank or the credit card company. They then scare you by saying that your card or account is blocked. Then they ask you for your personal details to unblock your card.
    • 4 - Exploit Innocence: Another reason why they are calling you may be simply because they want to exploit you innocence into tricking you off your money.

    Signs of a Scam:

    Fake calls carry some of the most common signs of a scam. Every day we receive many promotional text messages and some phone calls promoting some stuff. Scammers try to tap into our psychology and do a few things that form a common trait of scam calls. Some such signals are as follows:

    • 1 - Call comes but no one responds: This is basically a confirmation call that you are the owner of that number.
    • 2 - Rush through the sales pitch: The scam callers will generally rush through their sales pitch, committing and promising a lot many things along the way. They do so in order to confuse you. They will not give you time to think or question. Even if you put up a query, they will be happy to respond. They can even tell you about a fake website or show you testimonials that are all set up to provide a legit environment. They will be very persuasive and consistent with their efforts.
    • 3 - The callers will present you with an attractive Ponzi scheme with a ‘rags to riches’ testimonial. The scheme will be too good to ignore and will be portrayed in a way that it suits your needs the best. They will try to convince you on all fronts and address all your queries. They also talk in a friendly and helpful way to weaken our reasoning and fill us with trust and emotions. Their sales pitch will promise prosperity and a great lifestyle for you and your family. It will tickle all your hidden desires and wishes. You will not be able to say ‘No’ to them.
    • 4 - Their focus will be to get your credit card or account details. They may also ask you for your email id and other personal information that they can use against you.

    The above mentioned are the most common signs of a scam. They should immediately ring your alarms when you receive a fake call. All the above tricks are aimed at promising you with money and prosperity. Logically thinking, if anyone really knew the ‘trick to be rich’, they would not be desperate enough to share it with you. They would be busy minting money for themselves. If the World would have been so fair, no one would be poor today. Have you ever heard of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet calling people to share their secret or strategies with them? This just never happens.

    Always remember, there is no such thing as ‘get rich quick’ in this world. This may happen with a few really lucky people, but everyone is not lucky. There is no other way to make money other than hard or smart work.

How They Hook You?

Now let’s discuss how they hook you through their clever tactics. A simple phone call can land you in a world of trouble. Here is how they trick you:

  • 1 - Smishing: this is a relatively new. Criminal uses SMS text messages and sends you a link with it asking you to click on it. Once you click on that link you are redirected to a malicious site or offer that aims to extract your personal or financial information. It may also contain a virus that may intrude in your mobile phone files and siphon off sensitive information to the hacker. Your financial and personal details can later be misused to a great extent and cause a great deal of trouble to you.
  • 2 - Grand Prizes or Lotteries: This call is based on grand prize or lottery announcement. They say that you have won a big prize or have won a lottery of millions of pounds. In order to avail that prize you are asked to share your email id, phone number, bank or card details. Sometimes, you are even asked to transfer a particular amount to another account, which generally belongs to the caller or his friend. The prizes or offers may include stuff like, foreign lotteries, easy credits and loans, donations and charity, attractive business opportunity etc.
  • 3 - Time restrain: the offers will often talk about a limited time offer, which at the time of you receiving the call, would be about to expire. This is done deliberately to push you in a panic mode where you think that you may lose this opportunity forever, if you don’t take immediate action. This is where most people fall into the scammers trap.
  • 4 - Data breach warning: The scam call may say that your mobile data is breached through iCloud. This is generally a Robocall asking you to take a particular action if you want to get the issue fixed. You are then re-directed to another person posing as someone from the helpdesk promising you that he can get the issue fixed. He may then ask you for your Apple User Id and password and may also ask for other sensitive information. Upon getting the login details, he can gain access to your Iphone and other data and information stored in your phone. He may then misuse this information in any way he wants.
  • 5 - Promise of a Govt. grant: Some caller may tell you that you have been regular in paying your taxes and hence you have been selected for a grant from the Government. They then ask you for your bank account information where the funds can be transferred directly.
  • 6 - Fake calls from other govt depts.: Some callers may say that they are calling on behalf of Govt depts like IRS or some investigation agencies. They make you feel that it is your duty to be honest with them. They then ask you for your details and you fall victim to their cunningness.

So, from now on anytime you encounter any such call that contains any element of the above mentioned warnings, remember that this is how they hook you.

Scam Calls: How to Handle Them?

The key is to remain calm and logical. Do not get carried away by the rapid sales pitch. Don’t think before believing the promises of prosperity. The most general reaction should be to hang up the phone. In case, if you don’t consider it polite or for any reason you are continuing with the call, then here are some important things you should keep in mind if you want to stay away from phone scams:

  • 1 - Don’t agree to transfer money: No matter what the offer may be or No matter how soon it may be expiring. Never pay upfront. Do not get carried away and transfer the money while you are on call or immediately after. The scammers are experts in tricking our mind into believing what they are saying. If our guards are not up, this is where we can be very vulnerable. We often end up paying for services or stuffs that are available for free. Also, if you think that the offer is legit and you feel compelled to transfer money, try using credit card. Do not use direct cash or money transfer as you may lose the right to dispute.
  • 2 - Do not share your information: Never, ever share your personal sensitive information over phone with anyone. By doing this, you are literally serving your savings and happiness on a platter to the criminals. It is clearly advised by banks, credit card companies and mobile companies that they don’t ask for your personal information over phone. These are secret information that should be kept only with the customer. So, if for any purpose, a person posing to be from the bank or credit card company, asks for your information over phone, simply deny it. Instead contact the respective organization directly and clarify the issue with them.
  • 3 - Don’t fall for investment offers: Do not give in to baseless investment offers made to you over phone. Always get the legitimacy of the offer checked through online forums or government officials. These offers promise to pay a heavy return on your investment in a very short span of time. Technically, there is no such way to do so. So, these are generally ponzi schemes that survive and thrive till they are able to trick new people. The investments made by new people is used to pay old members and the hype continues. As the fame of these companies grow, more and more people decide to join with their hard earned money. It is this time that the company packs its bags and leave you stranded. Believe me, the feeling of being robbed of your personal savings that you had kept for future contingencies, is really bad. Don’t fall prey to it. Stay aware, stay informed, stay safe.
  • 4 - Do Not Call Registry: This is important. The government and telecom regulatory authorities have come up with a Do Not Call Registry, where you can register for free. The benefits of this registration is that no one can call you to promote their offers, except without your permission. This greatly cuts down on the number of unsolicited calls and promotional messages that you receive in a day.

Report Frauds and Scams

There are many different types of fraud and each may be reported differently. First, report the fraud to your local police department. You may also contact your state regulators (for example, consumer protection office) to report fraud. Violations of federal laws should be reported to the federal agency responsible for enforcement. While federal agencies are rarely able to act on behalf of individuals, they use complaints to record patterns of abuse which allow an agency to take action against a company or industry. If you suspect fraud, take these steps:

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or use the Online Complaint Assistant to report most types of fraud.
  • Report the IRS imposter tax collection scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) or by calling 1-800-366-4484
  • Report fraud that used the U.S. Mail to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
  • Report identity theft or data breaches through IdentityTheft.gov.
  • File complaints about internet-based frauds to the internet Crime Complaint Centre.
  • Contact the Centres for Medicare & Medicaid Services to report instances of Medicare fraud.
  • Report Medicaid fraud to your state's Medicaid program office. Use the Fraud and Abuse Reporting Directory to find the contact information for your office.
  • File a complaint about e-commerce (business or trade that takes place on the internet) across international borders to econsumer.gov. Report other fraudulent business practices to the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration.
  • Report immigration fraud, the illegal use of documents or illegal actions to get around U.S. immigration laws, to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Report suspected census related frauds, where scammers act like they are collecting your personal information for the government, to the Census Bureau.
  • If you are the victim of moving fraud, you have two options. If you are moving within the same state, file a complaint with your state utility commission. If your move is interstate, you can file your complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
  • Report investing frauds to the Securities and Exchange Commission or your state's securities regulator.
  • Contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about credit and loan related frauds. The agency can also help you with frauds related to money transfers, credit reports, and other financial services.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission for telephone related frauds, such as mysterious charges on your bill (cramming), an illegal switch of your service (slamming), or telemarketing.
  • Visit Stopfraud.gov for information on which agencies you should report banking, credit card, housing, and other financial frauds to.
  • Report Social Security related frauds with the Social Security Administration's Inspector General or using their online fraud reporting form.
  • Report misuse of federal funds to Government Accountability Office through the Fraud Net form.
  • Report imposter frauds, where someone pretends to be from the government, company, employer, or someone you know, to the Federal Trade Commission.

If you report a phone scam promptly, you improve your chances of recovering what you have lost. It also helps law enforcement authorities stop scams before other people become victims.

Conclusion:

In the end, we can say that Phone Scams are a rampant phenomenon these days. The bad news is, they are here to stay. As more and more people are switching over to smartphones all around the world, the scammers have a huge market to exploit. Our only protection lies in awareness, financial literacy and vigilance. Not only this, we should also spread the word so that no innocent soul falls prey to the evil intentions of these scammers. We should be careful about keeping our personal information safe. We should exercise extra caution before divulging any sensitive information before any stranger. If we come across, anyone who has been scammed, we should immediately report it to the concerned authorities. Our inaction may lead to emboldened imposters and more innocent victims.