How to Stop Phone Scams

We’ve all been there. You get a call or text from a phone number that looks familiar, but you just don’t know for sure. Yes, it could be from someone you know, or it may be a company with which you do business. But on the other hand, it could be a scammer.

How can you find out for sure? And how can you protect yourself from such predators?

Recognize a Scam Before It Happens

In general, phone scammers want money. Or, more specifically, information that can make them money. This means they will try to get valuable personal or business information from you directly. Or they could persuade you to give them access to your device or network, where they can get the information or money they want themselves.

In order to do this, scammers need to try and convince you that they are legitimate requestors of your information. To that end, they have the ability these days to spoof phone numbers. That way, they may be calling from all the way across the country—or even outside the U.S.—but they look like they’re calling locally.

Another common tactic is to use confusing and overly urgent-sounding language if they get you on the line. They may try to convince you they’re from the IRS and you need to provide your bank account number. They could represent themselves as law enforcement, calling about the arrest of a loved one. Or they could go a slightly more positive–but still urgent–route; you’ve won a sweepstakes but need to provide the necessary information in order to get the money.

The purpose of this verbal intimidation is to get you to panic. That way, you are more likely to respond the way they want: immediately, and without thinking.

Respond Accordingly

If you do answer a call from someone you don’t know and you get the sort of high-pressure treatment described above, it’s in your best interest to take a beat. Count to ten, or do something that gives you time to consider the authenticity of the call. Tell the caller you need time to confirm what they’re telling you or to supposedly get the information they want. Say you’ll call them back.

That is the last thing a phone scammer wants. As soon as you suggest a callback, a scammer is likely to decline. They know you are lost to them.

But probably your best defense against a phone scammer is not to engage with them at all to begin with. Even by just simply answering a call or clicking a link in a text, you could give them all the access they need to infiltrate your accounts and/or your device. Or they could use recordings of your voice to help them gain access.

So, if you do not recognize a number, do not answer a call or respond to a text right away. Try and verify the legitimacy of an unknown phone number first. You can perform a general web search for the number and see what comes up. Or you try looking it up with a reverse phone lookup. Such a tool can quickly reveal the owner or entity that’s actually behind the phone number.

If it turns out that the caller or texter is someone you recognize, great! All it cost you was a few seconds to confirm things. Or, if it not someone you know or a company you recognize, you may have just saved yourself from a scam. Not to mention all the time and stress of dealing with its aftermath.

Once you have confirmed that the number is illegitimate, you can simply block it on your phone. That should be enough to protect yourself from that scammer moving forward. But if you would also like to help others from going through the same thing, you can take things a couple steps further. Report the number to the FCC, and they can conduct an investigation. You can also take the time to note the number on various phone scam sites as a likely scam.

With that, a phone scammer isn’t likely to bother you or anyone else anymore.