Phone scams are on the rise with criminals targeting households across the United States to try and defraud people out of their money.
Typically, fraudsters try to cold call members of the public pretending to be from a trusted organization, like your bank, the police, a utility provider or a computer company. They have also been known to create pop up ads to target you online, impersonating one of the above, trying to get you to call them.
While the criminals' tactics can vary, the aim is the same. They want to get your personal or financial information, encourage you to hand over your cards or cash, or trick you into transferring money into accounts they control.
Don't fall for their tricks!
How the scams work
One of the most common methods we see involves a fraudster posing as your bank or the police. They claim there's been fraudulent activity on your bank account and you need to act quickly to protect your money. Their solution is for you to transfer your money to a so-called 'safe account'. But the account is actually controlled by the fraudster and when you move the money, they steal it.
In a twist on this scam, the criminal asks you to assist in a police investigation of supposedly corrupt staff in a bank or foreign money exchange, who they claim are issuing fake currency. You're then asked to visit the branch and withdraw a large amount of cash and take it home, where it is collected by a fraudster posing as a policeman or a courier.
To make their call appear genuine, fraudsters often use a tactic called 'number spoofing'. This enables them to alter the phone number from which they are calling so that it matches your bank's number. Then they ask you to check your handset display in an attempt to convince you it's an authentic call.
Other common phone scams include:
Being told that your computer has a virus or that your internet connection is running slow. The fraudster then takes control of your computer to 'fix' the problem, but instead actually installs software which steals your data. They may also watch you as you're asked to log into your online banking account.
Claiming that you're due a refund or compensation for poor services, such as for your internet connection. They get your bank details, but then say they have accidentally sent thousands of dollars, rather than hundreds, an error which will cost them their job. They then ask for the difference to be refunded via a wire transfer.
How to stay safe
Fraudsters can sound extremely professional and will do all they can to convince you that their call is real. There are some simple steps you can take to keep safe. It's really important to be wary of any unrecognized phone calls, especially when they ask for your personal or financial details.
Remember: your bank or the police will never:
Ask you to transfer money to a new account for fraud reasons, even if they say it is in your name.
Call you to ask for your 4-digit card PIN or your online banking password, even by tapping them into the telephone keypad.
Ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them for safe-keeping.
Send someone to your home to collect your cash, PIN, payment card or checkbook if you are a victim of fraud.
Ask you to purchase goods using your card and then hand them over for safe-keeping.
If you are given any of these instructions, it is more than likely a fraudster. Hang up the phone straight away, and wait five minutes, then call your bank or card issuer on a number you trust. You can find one on their website or on the back of your bank card. Your bank will also never ask you to check that the number showing on your phone's display matches their registered phone number.
Criminals may already have some information about you, for example, your name and address. So, don't assume that a call is genuine just because they have these details or because they claim to represent a legitimate organization you use or a person that you know.
Never feel pressured into making a quick response; scammers will sometimes try to hurry you into taking action. A genuine organization will always give you the time you need to make an informed decision.
If you're ever at all suspicious about a call, then just hang up the phone.