What is a phone scam?
Any fraudulent communication that comes through the phone can be categorized as a phone scam — whether it’s a real voice on the other end of the line or the automated script of a robocall.
Some phone scams realistically imitate calls you’d expect to receive. Others offer surprises, good or bad. These fraudsters can act friendly, important or even intimidating. The calls might make false promises, solicit help for a so-called good cause or outright threaten the victim.
No matter the approach, the goal of a phone scam is always the same: to get your personal information and eventually your money.
Phone scam examples
Here are a handful of common phone scams. The more familiar you are with these tactics, the easier it will be for you to recognize and avoid fraud.
The caller offers help for a technological problem you didn’t even know you had. The scammer uses jargon to confuse the target and often tries to gain remote access to the target’s computer. This scam is often aimed at older adults.
Credit repair scams promise to fix credit issues or eliminate the debt — in return for some money today.
These types of calls make an urgent request for much-needed money to help people in desperate need. The scam tugs at the target’s heartstrings and could even reference the welfare of a loved one. However, the money never goes to a good cause — only the fraudster’s pocket.
Extended car warranties
Who doesn’t love a good warranty? Well, these scammers will try and sell you overpriced or worthless car warranties. They often know information about your vehicle and can spoof legitimate phone numbers, which increase their credibility.
Some scam artists impersonate employees of the Census Bureau to collect your personal information, which they can use for other scams or outright steal your identity. This scheme isn’t limited to phones. Fraudsters sometimes send letters on authentic-looking letterhead or even show up at your door!
How to avoid phone scams
- Don’t pick up — If you don’t recognize the number, let the call go to voicemail. Picking up the call lets the caller know they reached a responsive phone number, which keeps you in their crosshairs. By pressing buttons or trying to talk to an operator, you could be encouraging even more robocalls.
- Use call blocking — Your phone/cell service provider may offer a service to block phone numbers known to be used by spammers. Your provider might also identify dangerous callers for you when your phone rings. If the screen says, “SPAM RISK,” don’t pick up!
- Join the No-Call List — The National Do Not Call Registry is a resource that can help shield you from telemarketing calls, legitimate and illegitimate. You can register for free at donotcall.gov.
- Don’t rely on caller ID — Phone scams have gotten better at making you think the number connecting to your phone is legitimate. By spoofing an ID, the target sees an established or familiar phone number calling them — maybe even their own!
If you suspect you have been targeted by a phone scam and have mistakenly provided your personal and/or account information to the scammer, please contact your local branch or our Customer Care Center at (800) 994-2500 (8:30 am - 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday) for assistance as soon as possible.