Are People Still Falling for Phone Scams in 2019?

Cynthia Madison
June 18, 2019

Remember that prank calls when the caller would hang up just as you answered the phone? Annoying, yes, but totally harmless. Now, those so-called “crank calls” have made room for complex phone scams that only have on purpose: to get money from the people who, unknowingly, answer the phone.

In 2017, scam calls were the number one complaint made to the Federal Trade Commission, most of which were made against telemarketers and robocallers. But this has not stopped scammers from tricking even the smartest of people and steal from them. Whether they do it by establishing trust or fear, or sometimes even both, their goal is still the same: fraud. While many people believe they can protect themselves from those sorts of calls, truth is, scammers have found more and more ingenious ways to trick their victims.

Robocalls are on a continuous rise

One of the most widely used methods amongst scammers are robocalls and, in 2018, a report revealed that the trend is only growing bigger. The reason is quite simple – robocalls are cheap. In fact, scammers are using robocalls to reach millions of people every day at quite a low cost. The worst part? There is not actually anything you can do to avoid them, apart from not answering unknown callers.

With phone scams being around for decades, people can’t stop wondering: is it that hard for the authorities to stop them? The answer is yes, and there are multiple reasons why authorities can’t do much to stop them.

More than half of robocalls come from overseas, where it can be even harder for the authorities to locate and stop scammers. US communication laws don’t apply to them, and even if they would, scammers don’t really seem to care. The main reason seems to be phone spoofing, which involves scammers being able to place millions of phone calls each day, from either unique or masked phone numbers.

In order for authorities to catch them, advanced technology needs to be used to pinpoint the origin of the calls. Government agencies know that such technology is needs, but they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to support it. Default call blocking solutions that are available on most mobile phones are not helping either, as the scammer can simply call you back using another spoofed number, making this inefficient.

IRS scams are increasing throughout tax season

Everybody knows who stressful tax season can be and scammers are only taking advantage of that. The most popular IRS scam involves a person calling and claiming to be an IRS official who starts threatening people regarding their supposed debts. They will demand money from their victims, threatening with arrests and, in some cases, even deportation. Since 2013, IRS scammers have reportedly collected over $54 million from their victims.

The IRS has stated multiple times that they do not use phone calls as a primary communication method and has warned people not to trust anyone who claims to call on their behalf.

Many people have been able to prevent those types of scams by not giving out personal data over the phone and asking questions to verify the legitimacy of the callers. If the scammers find themselves bombarded with questions, chances are they will simply hang up, as they do not want to lose time or get caught. They are not necessarily interested in you as an individual, so there is no reason for them to try and convince you they are who they claim to be for more than a few minutes.

Elders are still scammers’ favourite victims

Older adults seem to be among scammers’ main targets, especially as they are considered easy targets. Everyone has at least one relative that has received an alarming phone call from someone pretending to be their grandchild and telling a compelling story that ends with a request for financial assistance. This ends with grandparents wire-transferring money to the scammers, thinking they will be helping their grandchildren.

In most of the cases, the scammers are so successful because they buy or steal personal information about their victims, including phone numbers, family members’ names and addresses. This makes them sound more legitimate and earn the victims’ trust in a matter of seconds.

The best piece of advice for people in this situation is to try and verify if the person on the other end is who they claim to be. Asking a few more personal questions, that only your closed ones would know may discourage the scammer and prevent them from calling again. Another way to verify if the caller is who they say they are is to do a reverse phone lookup on the number before giving up any personal information. Tell them you can not speak right now and you will be calling back in a few moments. Chances are that, by the time you call back, nobody will answer the phone or the number will already be blocked.

Businesses are not safe either

While most phone scams are targeting individuals, businesses are not sunning safe either. Slamming and cramming are the most popular methods and have been around since the 80s, targeting both individuals and businesses alike.

Slamming and cramming involve phone carriers adding charges to one’s bills that result for third-party services. Basically, this is what happens when you send a text to donate to charity or to support a contestant in a reality show. The increasing usage of those type of services has made it very easy for scammers to go unnoticed for quite some time. While there have been numerous tries to stop this from happening, the best protection seems to be blocking out any type of additional services for businesses, including collect calls and thoroughly reviewing bills.

In order to prevent these scams from happening, authorities advice businesses to minimize their exposure and never identify themselves to callers before they are sure of who they are. If someone is calling to do business with you or to request payment, they should already know who you are. Make sure to always ask questions that could verify their claims and try to keep calm. Remember that the scammers’ priority is to make you nervous and play on your emotions.

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