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Avoid 6 Types of Phone Scams with These Tips

In this article

  1. Best practices to avoid phone scams
  2. Phone scam red flags
  3. AI voice scams
  4. Imposter scams
  5. "Free" trials, prizes, and lottery scams
  6. Debt and credit repair scams
  7. Charity scams
  8. Tech support scams
  9. How to report scam phone numbers
  10. What if you already paid a phone scammer?
  11. When in doubt, let it go to voicemail
  12. FAQs

Phone scams are among the most common scams today, and they can be convincing. Here are the most common phone scams, how to spot and avoid them, and what to do if you paid a scammer over the phone.

Haley Rogers • July 17, 2023

We’re used to being on the defense against suspicious emails, texts, and direct messages online. It’s simple: don’t click it! But what about phone scams? They may seem old-fashioned, but phone scammers can still take advantage of people’s trusting nature and sound convincing.

But you can spot them if you know what to look for. This list should help prepare you to handle any suspicious number or caller.

Best practices to avoid phone scams

The best way to avoid phone scams is by hanging up when you are suspicious. Find and call the official phone number on the back of your debit or credit card or on the institution’s official website. If you call the official number and request a callback, keep in mind that the institution may call you back from a different number.

But if you do answer an unknown number, here’s a quick tip (just in case): avoid answering with the word “yes.” It seems simple, but scammers often prompt the recipient to answer questions with the word “yes” so they can use the recording to commit fraud.¹

You can also sign up for the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry, adding your number to your state’s do-not-call list and downloading a call-blocking app. The registry essentially blocks all telemarketing calls from legitimate companies, so you’ll know it’s a scam when you receive a sales call.

Using data and reports from the FTC and other reliable sources, a call-blocking app can predict which calls are likely scams or spam and intercept the call before it reaches you.

While these may not completely solve the problem, you’ll be able to spot and avoid more scam numbers.

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Phone scam red flags

If you’ve made it far enough that you’re engaging with a potential scammer, here are some red flags that should signal you to hang up immediately:

  • The call begins with a “robocall” prerecorded message
  • You’re being offered a prize, but you have to pay off tax before you receive it
  • You’re being threatened with an arrest, fine, or some other consequence. No law enforcement agency or the IRS will call you asking for money
  • You’re being asked to send money or a gift card (gift cards are major red flags because they are untraceable)
  • You’re being told to give them remote access to your computer
  • You’re being rushed to make a payment or take some other urgent action
  • You’re being asked for personal information like your address or Social Security Number (SSN)

If any of these come up — hang up!

Now you know some of the red flags when answering the phone, but what about specific types of phone scams? Here are some top phone scams and how to avoid each one.

 

AI voice scams

One version of artificial intelligence (AI) voice scams is when a scammer tries to obtain a recording of your voice, which they can use to commit fraud. Then, there’s the other side of the coin: when a scammer uses AI to clone the voices of individuals you know and convince you to pay them money or give up personal information.

 

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How to avoid it:

  • Don’t answer an unknown number if you can help it (most often, it’s a scam phone number)
  • If you do answer, avoid saying the word “yes,” as scammers can use this simple word to try to compromise your personal accounts
  • If the caller sounds like someone you know, but they are asking for money, hang up and call them directly on their own line to confirm the call is real
  • Avoid pressing numbers; this indicates that your number is active and may prompt more calls
  • Add your number to the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry and download a call-blocking app

Imposter scams

Imposter scams (or impersonator scams) are exactly as they sound: someone calling from a scam number posing to be someone they are not to gain something from you. These scams are responsible for the second-highest reported loss amount of $2.6 billion last year.²

Imposter scams can take many forms, including:

  • IRS imposter scams: the scammer poses as someone from the IRS claiming that you owe the government money for taxes (they may threaten legal action)
  • Bank imposter scams: someone pretends to be from your bank, claiming you owe money or have something wrong with your account
  • Family imposter scams: scammers act as family members in an emergency who need money sent to them immediately
  • Social Security imposter scams: someone claims to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA), informing you that something is wrong with your account

What they all have in common is they will try to convince you to send them money via a wire transfer, money app, cryptocurrency, or — most popular and untraceable — a gift card.

How to avoid it:

  • Remember that government agencies will never call you asking for money or threaten you
  • Avoid paying over the phone at all, specifically via wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency
  • Hang up and look up the scam phone numbers online to see if others are receiving the same call from the same number
  • Never provide your SSN over the phone to anyone you don’t know; often, legitimate requests for this will only require the last four digits
  • Call institutions or individuals directly. For example, if you receive a suspicious message that a family member is in jail and needs bail money, call that institution directly to confirm this information 

"Free" trials, prizes, and lottery scams

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These phone scammers will call claiming you’ve won a prize, often a lottery outside the US (which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track).

Some scammers will make “limited time” offers for free product trials, which you’ll sign up for and be billed for later. Others will offer free luxury travel packages or timeshares — which will come with hidden costs (and, you guessed it, no vacation).

These scammers are trying to win you over, but they should lose you the minute they ask for a payment, subscription, shipping charges, taxes, or upfront fees. No prize should come with a cost.

How to avoid it:

  • Do not provide your address, credit card information, or any other personal information
  • Do not pay the caller at all — especially not via gift card, wire transfer, or money app
  • Be skeptical of anything that seems too good to be true; today, “free” is rare

Debt and credit repair scams

Debt and credit scammers target financially vulnerable individuals, offering loan forgiveness or reduction, credit repair opportunities, or debt consolidation.

These phone scammers may sound confident and promise to negotiate with creditors or offer to reduce monthly payments, lower your interest rates, or forgive your debt completely — all for an up-front fee. Credit repair scammers falsely claim they can sweep your credit report and remove anything detrimental to your credit score.

How to avoid it:

  • Hang up as soon as you realize they’re requesting payment for an unsolicited offer
  • If you remain on the call, ask questions about the company name, address, phone number, and website (they often won’t provide it)
  • If they do provide the company information (even if it’s fake), report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov
  • Remember that only credit bureaus can remove or make changes to your credit report
  • Be proactive and consider one of our top ways to consolidate debt
  • Keep in mind that legitimate lenders won’t make these guarantees, especially for anyone with a spotty credit history

Do not provide any payment upfront, and report the scam phone number to DoNotCall.gov

Charity scams

Charity scams are among the most common scams and often occur over the phone. Some scammers will pretend to be legitimate charitable organizations and request donations. Calls from these scammers’ phone numbers may increase around the holidays or after natural disasters to take advantage of the community’s willingness to give.

How to avoid it:

  • Hang up or ask questions about the organization; charities must disclose their name, purpose, and plenty of other legal information
  • Charities cannot use robocalls or prerecorded messages to reach you unless you are a prior donor
  • Avoid making payments to any charity before checking it out at one of the FTC’s recommended charity research organizations³

Tech support scams

Tech support calls from scam numbers use notable company names to seem legitimate and claim they’ve found an issue on one of your devices. They offer to fix the problem by requesting that you download harmful software — which may impose a virus or give the scammer remote access to your computer. They may also request payment for the “fix” in the process.

How to avoid it:

  • Legitimate tech companies like Microsoft do not make these types of unsolicited tech support calls4
  • Double-check the legitimate company’s customer support number as another failsafe
  • Look up and report the scam phone number online
  • Never give anyone access to your computer, especially those making unsolicited calls
  • Do not download any software from third-party sites

How to report scam phone numbers

To report the scammer, use any information you have about the individual or “company” (even if it’s fake) and report it to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. To report the phone scammer’s number itself, submit it at DoNotCall.gov.

The FTC will analyze and compare your report with other data, complaint trends, and call patterns to identify phone scammers. They release these scam numbers to the public to help call-blocking efforts and assist law enforcement with finding out who is behind the scams.

What if you already paid a phone scammer?

If you ever end up paying a scammer, you are not alone. Consumers lost nearly $8.8 billion to scams last year — a sharp increase from $6.1 billion the year before.²

If you paid a scammer, here’s what you do next (and you want to act quickly):

  • Contact your credit card company or bank immediately if you paid with a credit or debit card.
  • Contact the gift card issuer if you paid via gift card, explain what happened, and ask if they can refund the money.
  • If you paid via wire transfer, contact the institution and ask for the transfer to be reversed. While it’s not likely, it’s possible.
  • If you paid via a P2P app with an internal balance, contact the app company — if the app is linked to a credit or debit account, reach out to the credit card issuer and bank first.

If you provided remote access to your computer, update any security software, scan for malicious software, and delete anything that appears harmful. Change any account passwords or usernames if you provided them. And if you gave anyone your SSN, monitor your credit report closely.

Follow these steps if you suspect you’re the victim of fraud.

When in doubt, let it go to voicemail

Scammers are going to call. Your best defense against phone scams is to avoid answering any unknown numbers and hang up immediately if you hear any red flags. Don’t provide your personal information, and don’t pay anyone over the phone before researching to make sure it’s a legit request.

Protect yourself from scammers who play with your emotions – read our guide on avoiding online romance scams.

Beyond common scams, learn how to protect yourself from scams that target Chime members specifically.

FAQs

What are the latest phone scams?

The latest phone scams include AI voice scams, imposter scams, debt relief and credit repair scams, charity scams, and tech support scams.

What numbers should you avoid answering?

The most common area codes you should avoid answering calls from are 473, 809, and 900.5,6 Be suspicious of any international numbers and area codes unless you are expecting an international call.

Scammers will often spoof a phone number that looks local to you (likely with the same area code and similar digits afterward), so be wary of “local” numbers you don’t recognize.

Can you check if a phone number is spam?

Yes. Google the number to see if it shows up on pages that track spam numbers, as many people will report scam phone numbers in forums and on public lists.

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1 Information from the Federal Trade Commission's “Robocall Response Team: Combating Scam Robocalls & Robotexts" as of June 25, 2023: https://www.fcc.gov/spoofed-robocalls

2 Information from the Federal Trade Commission's “New FTC Data Show Consumers Reported Losing Nearly $8.8 Billion to Scams in 2022" as of June 21, 2023: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2023/02/new-ftc-data-show-consumers-reported-losing-nearly-88-billion-scams-2022

3 Information from the Federal Trade Commission's “Before Giving to a Charity" as of June 21, 2023: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/giving-charity

4 Information from Microsoft's “Protect yourself from tech support scams" as of June 21, 2023: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/protect-yourself-from-tech-support-scams-2ebf91bd-f94c-2a8a-e541-f5c800d18435

5 Information from Inc.com's “Do Not Return a Call or Text From These Area Codes--It May Be a Scam" as of June 21, 2023: https://www.inc.com/joseph-steinberg/do-not-return-calls-or-texts-from-these-area-codes-its-a-scam.html

6 Information from Reader's Digest's “Avoid Answering Calls from These Area Codes: Scam Phone Numbers Guide" as of June 21, 2023. https://www.rd.com/article/area-codes-phone-scam/

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