A recent event made me all too aware of how susceptible people can be to phone scams — and how easily they can be prevented if the receiver of the call knows how to respond. Phone scams can be carried out by master manipulators who know the right persuasion and intimidation tactics to get innocent people to surrender large amounts of money or important personal information. You don’t want to be one of those people!
In my particular situation, we had recently hired a new tech here at BL Technical. When our new hire called one of our users, the user asked, “How do I know this person is really from BL Technical?”
Good question! Not just because it’s wise to be wary, but also because it can be really hard to tell whether a person is really from the company they claim to be from. They introduce themselves as being from the company, and the company’s name shows up on the caller ID.
I told our user that if they ever had a concern, they should ask for the BL Tech employee’s extension and then call the person back through the main office number listed on our website or official paperwork. Then they can dial the extension to get directly in touch with the employee who called them.
Let’s create a hypothetical situation here:
You get a call from somebody who claims they are from your IT support company. They say that you are behind on your payment, which has automatically made your server unsecure. You need to issue a payment immediately and provide personal account information to resecure your server. They say you can’t call back later, and you have to pay with a credit card over the phone right then and there.
Does that sound suspicious? It should! Unfortunately, it’s calls like these that put people at risk of identity theft, fraud, and cyber threats. Some victims of phone scams have even lost their entire life’s savings in one fell swoop.
First off, most companies don’t demand banking over the phone or insist that payment by phone is your only option. Generally speaking, if the person tries to persuade you that their phone call is your only chance to resolve the issue, you should take that as a big indicator that something is wrong. Furthermore, if the caller suggests paying with prepaid debit cards, gift cards, or cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin), this is another sign the person is illegitimate.
Remember, you should never, ever give important information like your credit card number, bank account information, or other personal details over the phone unless you know the person is legitimate. But how do you know? After all, scammers can easily create fake names and companies that will show up on your caller ID. This isn’t reliable identification.
And in some cases, the person doesn’t sound aggressive or sketchy — they might be perfectly pleasant and convincing in their desire to help. In some situations, you were already suspecting their call.
Even if the person demonstrates exemplary customer service, there’s nothing wrong with undertaking the method I described earlier in this post. Thank them for their help, but tell them you wish you hang up and call them back on the office line, which you can easily access from the company website or a copy of your most recent bill. Get the caller’s extension number if necessary, so you can reconnect with them when you call back. This is also the method recommended by the Federal Trade Commission.
If the caller is legitimate, they will appreciate your sense of caution and will not be offended — they will likely even encourage you to do what you need to do.
The good news is that there are advancements taking place in the industry with the intention of reducing the number of fraudulent calls people receive, namely in the form of new technology framework called STIR/SHAKEN, a model of authentication that requires a digital signature on all call (STIR stands for Secure Telephony Identity Revisited and SHAKEN stands for Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs). This will allow the recipient of the call to verify that the call is indeed coming from the number displayed on the caller ID.
Even if you’re staying vigilant, you still might fall victim to a phone scam — in this event, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to see whether you can stop payment on the card you used. Another blunder you want to avoid? Be careful about saying “yes” on the phone (even if the caller is asking questions like “Can you hear me?”). Scammers will record your “yes” and can potentially use the recording to make it sound like you agreed to a charge on your card or bank account.