How To Protect Yourself Against Scam Callers

It used to be relatively easy to avoid scam calls — you simply ignored incoming calls that didn’t show a caller id. But now the scammers have gotten more sophisticated and found new ways to target their victims. And it’s starting to interfere with getting business done.

Here’s why.

I was walking through Los Angeles when my cell phone started ringing. I naturally stopped to look at who was calling. I didn’t have the number in my contacts list, but it had my local (310) area code, and like a lot of folks, I get lots of business-related calls from people I don’t know well. Odds were it’s a call that matters.

“Hello, this is Alex.”

After a slight delay, and bearing a heavy accent and an unconvincing tone of excitement, the voice on the other line shouted, “Yes, Hi! This is American Cash Awards calling to congratulate you on winning $8 million dollars! — ”

I’ve just had to deal with one of the millions of lottery scams that occur every single day. It’s frustrating, especially given how much I use the phone for business every day. But unfortunately, it’s not surprising.

My company, YouMail, provides an intelligent answering service that helps our subscribers have a better experience when it comes to handling missed calls. And a large part of this is protecting them from being harassed by scam callers. In the past year YouMail has helped combat this problem by creating a Robocall Index to help estimate how many robocalls happen each month and show who makes them, and we’ve developed technology to help our users get fewer spam calls.

Since my company has been continually analyzing data about scam calls, I’ve put together a guide to help you protect yourself against scammers based on what we’ve learned.

Here are 5 steps to combat phone scammers.

Step 1: Know who you’re dealing with.

Phone scammers are criminals that steal money from unsuspecting people in numerous ways. Some of the more common are to pretend to be a reputable company to fraudulently sell you services or fake goods, to trick you into paying taxes on a fraudulent lottery win, or to convince you a relative is in trouble and needs money immediately. While it seems easy to not fall victim to these claims, many people across the US get scammed into paying thousands of dollars each year. The question is, if it’s so easy to spot a fake caller — how do these phone scammers continue to convince people that they are someone they’re not?

In truth, it’s not always easy to detect scammers. They are continually becoming more and more intelligent. Through a practice called “Caller ID spoofing,” scammers are actually able to disguise their phone numbers as different ones. This means that an incoming call claiming to be Time Warner Cable or Microsoft or the IRS or a number with a common area code (like what happened in my case) could actually be a scammer calling from another country.

Cases upon cases point to consumers — especially senior citizens — turning over thousands of dollars to phone scams. While the FTC is trying to stop illegal spam calls, there is little to show for their efforts. This leaves us with more aggressive solutions that we need to carry out on our own.

Step 2: Ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

If a caller really needs to get a hold of you and you don’t have their number already in your phone, they can leave you a voicemail and you can call them back later. This step alone is remarkably powerful, since many scammers count on being able to talk to you. As part of this, it’s incumbent to keep your contact list on the phone up to date - so that people you’ve met or dealt with recently and who might call you are in there. And there are plenty of services out there, like ours, that make dealing with voicemail much less painful than it used to be and let you get back to important business callers quickly.

Step 3: Use caller ID apps or web searches to help you learn if a number is likely to be real or not.

There are more and more apps that provide caller ID information, especially for Android phones, which can help you figure out who is really calling. Or you can use a tool like YouMail’s Reverse Phone Lookup Directory which allows you to easily search for a phone number and find out if it likely is being used by a scammer. It only takes a few seconds to get a feel for whether the number calling you is likely to be real or some sort of scammer.

Step 4: Most importantly, don’t make purchases from people who call you!

That is, never, ever provide credit card information over the phone unless you’ve called the person, there is some way to verify who they are, and that they know who you are.

For example, if you answer a call from a number you don’t know and the caller claims to be from Microsoft and wants to sell you software or services, DON’T accept it. Simply hang up or ask who you’re speaking to. You can then call the actual company number back and ask to speak to that person concerning the offer to determine if it’s real.

This is the best and most foolproof way to guard yourself against scammers.

Step 5: Spread awareness.

Educate your friends, coworkers, and loved ones to put an end to scammers. If they can’t succeed in scamming people, there’s no reason for them to call in the first place.

Unfortunately, many people rely on their phone to run their business, and they rely on their Caller ID to know who is calling. Unfortunately, you can no longer count on Caller ID — so don’t let your guard down for incoming calls with Caller IDs of well-known companies or local phone numbers. Even if you think you know who is calling — you could be totally wrong. You just might find yourself entrapped by a thieving scammer looking to steal your money.

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