How to avoid telephone scams

A while ago, I received a telephone call from someone saying that they were from the “Technical Department” of my Internet Service Provider and that they were calling me because my internet had been running slow. Strangely, my internet HAD been running slow a day or two before.

Coincidences like these can really make you think such calls are genuine. The caller also new my name and some account details and spoke with the same accent as a customer service adviser from the same company that I had called a month or two before.

It really did sound genuine. Just to be sure, I took his number and said I would call back in a few minutes. Instead of calling him, I looked up the number of my service provider (which was close to the number he had given me) and called the service provider instead. They informed me that the first caller was nothing to do with them and it was indeed a scam!

But how did the fraudster know my name and other account details? It’s clear to me that this information much have been leaked or sold to the scammer by someone working for my service provider (and likely based in the overseas country where they had based their call centre).

So, just because a caller KNOWS INFORMATION ABOUT YOU does NOT mean it is genuine.

With a little research, I soon found out how this particular scam works.

Basically, the caller gets you to download some software from a link on an email they send you. (They will claim this is necessary to help analyse and fix the problem. In reality, it allows them to see what you are doing on your computer and even take control of it.) They then get you to log in to your bank account ‘to check for a refund they claim to have sent you’ and then they EMPTY YOUR BANK ACCOUNT! People have lost thousands of pounds this way.

Since that first call. I’ve received more calls relating to exactly the same scam. My tactic now is to save everyone time and just hang up without saying a word and getting back on with whatever I was doing.

But this is not the only type of telephone scam ….

So what other types of scam are there?

A relative of mine used to get frequent calls from someone claiming to be from Microsoft technical department saying that there was a problem with her PC. The magazine Business Insider reported that apart from these “tech support” types of scam there were other common types, where the caller (which could also be a recorded message) pretended to be any of the following:

From this list it appears that just about anyone out there could be trying to scam you. So how can you stop them?

What do others advise?

I will set out an attempt at some simple advice below but first I would like to point you to some official advice you can get.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission gives a list of 10 things to do to avoid fraud. It is all good advice and well worth reading. However, most of the points seems to be different ways in which to spot fraud. I would like to give you just one simple rule to avoid it entirely.

The FBI also offers a one-page advice document on tips for avoiding telemarketing fraud. But again the list of things to remember consists of 17 separate bullet points. This is quite a lot to try and remember.

In the UK, Age UK have produced a booklet called Avoiding scams. The advice is all very useful and covers a lot more than just telephone scams but it still stretches to some 30 pages plus appendices. I also think advice like “Ask for a landline number and phone it to see who answers” may be useful in some cases but, in other cases, it risks you being drawn in to a confidence trick.

My advice

My advice is far more simple. And it is this:

If you RECEIVE an ‘unexpected’ telephone call and it is NOT from someone you know, whose voice you RECOGNISE, then JUST HANG UP.

That’s it.

Well, nearly. Just to clarify the word ‘unexpected’: If you initiated a call and it is just being returned by someone, then this is expected.

Unexpected calls from people you don’t know are ALWAYS someone trying to sell you something or scam you and it can be impossible to tell the difference between these two.

You would certainly NEVER be telephoned out of the blue by any government agency including the tax man, police or court service, your bank or credit card company.

You may be called speculatively by someone trying to sell something but I would advise you to ignore such calls. If you really want to buy something, initiate the shopping yourself.

Don’t think that it’s rude to just hang up. If it’s a scam it’s the right thing to do. If it’s a legitimate sales call, then you’re saving the caller time by hanging up rather than trying to explain that you’re not interested. AND you should never be interested in any such sales call because you CANNOT be sure it is genuine no matter what precautions you take.

So it really is that simple.

Just hang up and you’ll never be the victim of a telephone scam.

Thank you for reading and stay safe!

If you like the content of this article and believe others could benefit from reading it then please click the button further down to share it on Facebook.

If you would like to listen to a real life actual telephone fraud taking place (on a lady who was initially as sceptical as you or I might be) then do listen to the first 16 minutes of this episode of the BBC’s Money Box programme and note the advice at the end.

n.b. My advice above is that you don’t even thank the person for the call before hanging up straight away as it just gives them another opportunity to keep you talking.

Published 17th April 2020


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Additional references:

Business Insider

'Woman on phone' image by Nebraska Department of Education from Pixabay