Fraud Alert | Stop Spam Calls
When unknown phone numbers pop up on your caller ID multiple times a day, it’s more than likely that those are spam calls. The number of spam calls reported to federal authorities continues to grow primarily because callers can access a large number of landlines and smartphone numbers. In fact, some spam calls come from other countries.
More often than not, spam calls come from scammers trying to get money, in some way, from the people they are calling. Generally, the fraudster tries to catch people off guard so that they only have time to act on—not think about—an offer or threat. For instance, scammers pose as police officers threatening arrest if the call recipient does not pay them or give them personal information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 69 percent of fraud reports filed with the agency in 2018 were telephone scams that totaled $429 million in losses. In 2019, the figure had risen to 74 percent and $493 million in losses. The FTC reported that people 70 years old and older had much higher financial losses than any other age group in 2018 and 2019.
Some spam calls, however, come from telemarketers trying to drum up sales for companies. However, once call recipients to give a firm, “no,” legitimate telemarketers will not call back.
Most Common Messages from Spam Calls
Spam calls usually come through robocalling, which involves a computerized autodialer that repeatedly dials phone numbers and leaves pre-recorded messages. Some of the most common messages from automated scam calls:
- Allege that the call recipient’s Social Security Number (SSN) has been compromised and the recipient must reactivate the number. A return phone number is left and the recipient is asked to immediately return the call.
- Allege that the call recipient owes income taxes and must call the IRS back immediately at a given number. If the recipient returns the call, the scammer tells the recipient to pay the taxes by purchasing gift cards and giving the gift card codes to the caller.
- Allege that there is a warrant out for the call recipient’s arrest. To avoid arrest, the call recipient must pay a fine with gift cards, a prepaid or reloadable card, or cash.
Generally, the messages are prerecorded by a robot or human, or a human comes on the line in a live call. Spam calls are many and varied, and the caller—whether a scammer or a telemarketer—usually asks for money.
Caller ID Spoofing
Spam calls are usually made with technology that “spoofs” or hides a caller’s true phone number to make it appear that the caller is calling from another number. Spoofing, in general, makes it difficult to trust your caller ID, but “neighbor spoofing” makes it even tougher.
Neighbor spoofing occurs when callers change their true area code and phone number to resemble the call recipient’s area code and phone number. This gives call recipients bigger headaches—and more opportunities to fall victim to a scam— because it’s hard to tell whether a local bank, charity, or store is making a legitimate marketing call.
In a May 2019 AARP survey on robocalls, 59 percent of respondents said they were more likely to answer their phone if the caller ID showed a number with their area code.
In some areas, local banks warn customers not to give out personal information over the phone but visit their local bank branch if they are suspicious about a call coming from the bank.
Tips on Stopping Spam Calls
There appears to be no end in sight for spam calls, at least for now. So, AARP and the FTC offer the following tips on stopping, or reducing the number of, spam calls while staying alert for scammers:
- For smartphones, get robocall-blocking apps, such as Nomorobo, Robokiller, Hiya, YouMail, or use your phone company’s spam blocker service.
- For landlines, purchase a phone with a call-blocking feature or a call-blocking device that attaches to the phone. You can also use your phone company’s spam blocker service.
- Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Let the call go into voice mail.
- Don’t return calls left by pre-recorded messages ordering you to call back or face some type of penalty.
- If you answer, don’t press any keys to follow the caller’s “instructions” or give out your personal information. Hang up immediately.
- Verify the call if the caller claims to be from a familiar company, charitable organization, or bank. Hang up and call the company, charity, or bank and ask if someone actually contacted you.
The FTC recommends signing up for the federal government’s free Do Not Call Registry to help reduce the number of telemarketing calls to your phone. Visit www.donotcall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222. To report a phone scam, visit ftc.gov/complaint.
For more tips on spotting and avoiding scams, visit AARP’s Fraud Network at https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/. If you or a loved one suspect a scam, call AARP’s free helpline at 877-908-3360.