How many times have you just started a nice family dinner and wham, you get an unsolicited phone call? I'm sure it's happened to everyone, multiple times.
Historically these types of calls have come from telemarketers and political campaigns. Lately, unsolicited calls have gone from just being annoying to malicious scams.
Phone scams are at an all-time high
You've probably noticed a sizable increase in the number of spam calls you're receiving as of late. You're not alone.
A recent study by Truecaller shows that the number of phone scams has been rising around the world. The U.S. is the second most affected country by spam calls. The average spam call per user each month in the U.S. is 20.7.
Most spam calls in the U.S. are either scam or nuisance calls. (Note: nuisance calls are generally unwanted disturbances for users, harassment and prank calls.) Financial services and debt collectors are the next two largest groups that make up spam calls.
Image: Chart showing top spammers in the U.S. (Source: Truecaller)
Another survey, by telecom service company First Orion, shows 95 percent of people in the U.S. say they've received a call from a telemarketer during the last six months. That's an increase of 11 percent, from 84 percent, just two years ago.
Many of these calls from telemarketers are legitimate. However, phone scams have been increasing rapidly with 69 percent of those surveyed saying they've received at least one scam call over the past six months. Nearly 13 percent said they received more than 20 different scam calls during that same time-frame.
We've been warning you about phone scams on the rise for some time now. Click here to read about 5 dangerous scams that are spreading.
Spoofed numbers, fraudsters pretending to be government officials from the IRS, and scammers posing as debt collectors are just a few examples of recent scams. You really need to know how to handle these spam phone calls.
How to handle spam calls:
- Don't answer - the easiest way to avoid falling victim to a phone scam is to not answer a call from a number that you don't recognize. Instead, let the call go to voicemail. If it's not a scam call and is important, the person calling you will leave a message and you can call them back.
- Hang up - if you answer and the caller (often a recording) asks you to hit a button to stop receiving calls, just hang up. Scammers often use these tricks to identify and target live respondents.
- Use a call blocker - the Truecaller app is a great way to identify and block spam calls on your smartphone. Click here to learn about and download the free app.
- File a complaint - if you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC so it can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
- Register your phone number - consider registering all of your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
Beware of the "smishing" scam
Phone scams don't even have to come in the form of a call. Cybercriminals are now creating fraudulent text messages that are set up like phishing scams. It's called "smishing," short for SMS phishing.
What's happening is, scammers are sending text messages that appear to be from a bank or another legitimate organization to unsuspecting victims. The text message claims, "We have identified some unusual activity with your account. Please log in to verify its security." There will also be a link that you're supposed to click on within the text.
The link actually leads to a fake website that looks exactly like the company's official site. Once there, the victim is asked to enter their sensitive information. If they enter the data, the criminal can access the victim's account and cause all kinds of havoc.
- Use caution with links - Do not click on a link inside a text that's supposedly from a legitimate organization. There's a chance it's malicious and could lead you to a spoofed site. If you need to log into an account, type the web address directly into your browser.
- Phone number - If you receive a text or email claiming to be from your bank, do NOT call the phone number that is provided. Whenever you need to discuss banking details, always call the number that is printed on the back of your debit or credit card. That way you know the number is legit and you're not going to be scammed.
- Security details - You should NEVER reveal your security details like your full passwords or PIN code over the phone. A bank will never ask for your online account password over the phone. They might ask you to answer a preset security question, which is fine, but never your password.
- Be vigilant - Never assume that a text message or email is genuine. Scammers can spoof phone numbers and email addresses to make them look official. Don't click on links within these messages, always type the website address into your browser or call the phone number located on the back of your card.
- Trust your instincts - If a text or email seems suspicious, delete it immediately. Follow up by calling the company using the trusted phone number on the back of your card.
- Don't feel pressured - If the person calling is pressuring you to give them sensitive data, stay calm and refuse. Just hang up the phone and call the company's trusted number to follow up with the issue.