- Phone scams are as big a problem now as they ever were — and some of the most devious scams are growing in popularity.
- Number “spoofing” technology and robocalling have only made these scams more sophisticated and harder to detect.
- We put together a list of the biggest phone scams the average person falls for today.
While online scams are on the rise in our modern, high-tech world, plenty of fraudsters still rely on good, old-fashioned phone scams to con unsuspecting victims.
Phone scams have been around as long as landlines have existed. But thanks to the rise of smartphones, nearly everyone has their device on them at virtually all times — meaning there are that many more opportunities for callers to trick you with false claims, pleas for help, or even the promise of a free vacation.
Though many assume that it’s only the elderly who fall for such seemingly obvious ploys, these scams are growing more and more sophisticated, and just about anyone can fall victim to them. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2017 annual data summary of consumer complaints, 40% of Americans in their 20s reported fraud that caused them to lose money, while 18% of fraud victims aged 70 or older said that they’d lost money to a scam.
In 70% of these reported fraud cases recorded by the FTC, contact by telephone was the method of initial communication used by the scammers. The ability for criminals to “spoof” caller IDs has only made matters worse, as people are typically more likely to answer a familiar-seeming number with a local area code.
With the growing sophistication of these scams and the relative ease with which your information can be accessed, it’s more important than ever to be informed and on the lookout for the latest, most common scams that can cost you time, money, or even your identity.
We’ve compiled a list of eight of the most sophisticated phone scams the average person falls for today.
Robocall scams are on the rise
Kai Chan Vong/Flickr
Automated phone calls — also called “robocalls” — have been giving people headaches for years. According to a 2018 report by The New York Times, the issue is only getting worse. This is due to the fact that robocalls are cheap and easy to make — experts tell the NYT that robocallers can reach millions of consumers daily at relatively low cost.
A whopping 3.4 billion robocalls were recorded by YouMail, a robocall blocking service that collects and analyzes data. The top robocall phone scams in March 2018, per YouMail, included offers of 0% interest rates (122.9 million calls), claims of problems with a consumer’s credit card (82.5 million calls), and the promise of forgiven or lowered student loan debt (71 million calls).
And no, there’s not much you can personally do to avoid them, other than remain vigilant and skeptical whenever you’re answering an unexpected call.
IRS scams take advantage of people’s stress during tax season
Tax season is a stressful, chaotic, and confusing time for many. And fraudsters are all too happy to take advantage of that.
One of the most common types of phone scamming involves a caller claiming to be an Internal Revenue Service official and threatening those who answer over supposed debts.
According to Experian, these phony IRS agents will call and demand money from victims, threatening arrest or even deportation if they don’t comply. The IRS has issued repeated warnings about this common scam, even noting that the calls typically increase during the summer once the tax filing date has passed.
“Summertime tends to be a favorite period for scammers because many taxpayers have recently filed a return and may be waiting for a response from the IRS,” the agency noted in a May 2018 news release.
The ‘grandparent scam’ preys on grandparents’ love for their grandchildren
The so-called “grandparent scam” is a popular one targeting older adults, and it’s seen an increase lately.
In a fairly straightforward plot, the person on the other line will pretend to be the grandson or granddaughter of the older victim. They’ll then concoct a story ending with a request for immediate financial assistance. Often, tricked seniors will end up sending money via wire transfer to the scammers as a result.
These scams are part of a larger category of “family/friend impostor” fraud complaints. The FTC received 10,565 of this type of complaint in 2015 alone, according to AARP.
“Certain scammers, especially those targeting older individuals, will pose as family members seeking bail money in order to stir sympathy,” credit industry analyst Sean Messier of Credit Card Insider told Business Insider.
Even more disturbing, criminals who employ this type of scam are successful in part because they already have some of their potential victim’s information, including grandchildren’s names, phone numbers, and even addresses. The FTC notes that these scammers typically buy or steal this personal information in order to sound legitimate to potential victims.
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