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Security & privacy

If you pick up your phone and see this number, don’t answer

Robocalls and spam phone calls will not disappear anytime soon, and unfortunately, there isn’t much that we can do about it. A recent study found that just under 4 billion Americans received such a call in only May this year.

That’s a lot of garbage calls but still less than the month before. Just over 600,000 calls were telemarketers, and 560,000 were for payment reminders. To no surprise, the most significant chunk (around 1.7 billion) came from spammers. Tap or click here to find out who’s calling you from an unknown or blocked number.

But there is a new type of spam call that can be used against you. Here’s what you need to know and how to protect yourself (and your wallet) against them.

Here’s the backstory

Most people will slam down the phone the second they hear a recorded message. That would be a natural reaction. But scammers have been turning the tables on victims, with the messages asking if they want to stop receiving robocalls.

In a moment of annoyance, someone might reply with a “yes.” The simple reply is what scammers will use against you. How? Well, your “yes” has been recorded and will be used to sign you up for premium services linked to your phone number. Your answer can also be used to authorize credit card payments.

It would be tough to dispute, as the spammers have your voice to prove authorization. Another trick spammers have been employing is designed to confuse you.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) noted that spammers would spoof the number to trick you. When you see the Caller ID looks like your number, they’re bargaining on your confusion to answer.

What you can do about it

When your mobile phone rings, don’t answer it immediately. Instead, take a few seconds to study the number to make sure that you know who it is that’s calling. If it looks incredibly like your number, don’t answer.

If you happen to answer the call and hear an automated message of any kind, hang up immediately. The only way to prevent your number from being spread around the automated services is not to engage.

Here are more tips from the FCC to stop unwanted robocalls and avoid phone scams:

  • You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller, or a recording, asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
  • If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.
  • To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

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