How to Avoid Phone Scams

Phone scams warning

Avoiding phone scams can be difficult. Thieves trick people to get personal information. It is more difficult than ever to detect phone scams by the phone number, either landline or mobile phone. Criminals often use VoIP or Internet phone numbers that are untraceable. Cell phone users can avoid most scams by using caller ID or an iPhone reverse phone number lookup to check the numbers of unknown callers. Unwanted calls can be avoided by using a call blocking app. The best way to avoid phone scams is to educate yourself about popular scams.

Types of Scams

The types of phone scams grow every day, making them harder to avoid. Criminals find new ways of getting money and information from users. They may use intimidation, phishing, phone number spoofing, scare tactics or guilt to get what they want from the victims. A common scam involves the IRS calling about an overdue tax bill. You should know that the IRS NEVER calls anyone; they send letters in the mail.

Another common trick involves getting the victim to say “yes.” The scammer will ask questions trying to get a positive answer. Don’t fall for it. Anything a person says can be manipulated. It can make it easier for the person to commit identity theft.

Location, Location, Location

Contrary to popular belief, not all crooks are in foreign countries. They might be in your neighborhood trying to make a quick buck. So-called upstanding businesses often use aggressive telemarketing campaigns to collects funds. On the surface, these people may seem to be honest. If you dig deeper, you’ll find that it’s a front. For example, in 2015, The Federal Trade Commission filed charges against four cancer charities that collected almost $200 million in donations. The money was used for luxury vacations and their family’s salaries.

Types of Scams

Scams are simple. They involve exchanging money for services, donating to a charity, or rescuing a friend or family member.

Popular phone scam:

Charity Phone Scam

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of real charities.  They represent worthy causes. However, people trying to scam you in the name of charity aren’t in that group. Scammers take the money you give in good faith to use for their own purposes. Be aware that thieves may pose as employees of famous charities. Be sure that you are donating to the actual charity.

Real charities may call people for money. Charities are created every day and it is nearly impossible to keep up with the latest giving trend. Likewise, it can be hard to catch on to a false charity asking for money or an organization.

Disaster Scam

Many parts of the country routinely face weather emergencies: power outages, loss of water, loss of homes, and much more. Unaffected people are asked to donate to help those in need. It’s a noble thing to do to help the less fortunate. Less noble is the fact that someone out there is waiting to take advantage of the situation. Scammers take to the phones to ask for donations, playing upon sympathy and human kindness. Some callers shame those who don’t donate. If you want to donate to help others, be sure that the organization making the request is legitimate.

Scammers are smart. They don’t invent charities. Many use well-established organizations to make the potential donor feel secure in laying out money.

The American Red Cross is the most well-known disaster agency in the world. Scammers have contacted donors by using a fake address - @redcross.net or by phone. The Red Cross never asks for personal information and advises people to be cautious if they receive a phone call. If you want to donate, call the organization directly or go to a local office. Anyone who suspects a disaster-based scam should contact The National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721 or email the NCDF at [email protected].

Financial Assistance 

Everyone needs extra cash from time to time. There are even times when things feel desperate. Applying for online loans or credit cards might seem like a good idea – a quick fix – but they are often a source of trouble. Loans and credit cards are offered by everyone from legitimate banks to cash advance services. Due diligence and giving out the right information may save you from identity theft, fraud, or worse.

Financial scams often have red flags:

  • They don’t ask for your credit history.
  • The lender isn’t registered. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires registration for all lenders and loan brokers in the state(s) they conduct business.
  • The lender requires a prepaid debit card.

Before applying for a loan, check out the company thoroughly to make sure it’s legitimate.

The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start. Research reviews from former and current customers.

Law Enforcement 

Police officers warrant respect and obedience. Parents teach children to respect and obey the police. When a police officer calls and asks for a donation or informs you of an outstanding warrant, the impulse to act is immediate. Unfortunately, the person calling may not be a member of law enforcement. The scammers posing as police call and prey upon the victim’s fear. There are three common scams relating to law enforcement:

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is a “go to jail, do not pass go” document. If you have a warrant against you, police will arrive at your door and cart you off to jail. The police do not call and ask for money. Have you ever seen a cop show where the police ring up a dangerous felon?


Citizens may receive an annual phone call asking for donations to the policeman’s ball or to support the Fraternal Order of Police. Police solicit funds for these and other charities but will not ask for a credit card or wire transfer over the phone. If you receive this call, contact the organization directly for verification.

Relative in Jail

Another common scam is the relative in jail scam. Senior citizens are usually the targets of this scam. The caller pretends to be a family member, saying he is in jail. The caller says a bondsman will be calling shortly. The target is expected to give out credit card information or to send money through Western Union or using a pre-paid card. This is a scam. Like the kidnapping scheme, the target is not offered any proof that the story is true. The scammer plays upon the target’s fear that a family member is in distress. If you receive such a call, find out the name of the jail and call it directly.

Cancer Scam

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018, there will be 1,735,350 people diagnosed with cancer; and 609,640 cancer-related deaths in the United States. The statistics suggest the most people know someone affected by cancer. Sadly, scammers take advantage of this fact and try to bilk unsuspecting people out of money in the name of cancer research or a related charity.

Social Security Scam

The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports a large increase in phone scams. The caller tells the senior his/her Social Security number has been suspended or there has been criminal or fraudulent activity with the card. The SSA does not suspend Social Security numbers.

If you get a call from an alleged SSA representative, use caller ID or a free reverse phone book app for iPhone to verify the number. Report fraud to Social Security Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or online. You may also call the OIG hotline (1-800-269-0271).


Medicare, like most health insurance plans, has an annual enrollment. Seniors receive many scam calls before or during enrollment. The callers are ruthless. They will say anything to get personal information, including bank account or social security numbers. Many prey on seniors who need Medicare to survive. Some common scare tactics:

  • Caller states that you will lose your coverage unless you join a specific plan.
  • You must pay to receive a new Medicare card. This isn’t true. Medicare cards, even temporary ones, are free and are sent automatically.
  • Don’t share any information with a caller who threatens to cancel your benefits.
  • Don’t give out bank information in return for a deposit or rebate.

If you suspect a scam or receive a call by someone stating to be a Medicare representative, use an Android or iPhone app to search by phone number. If the number is blocked, restricted or unavailable, hang up immediately.

Block calls on your iPhone to cut down on annoyance or the urge to answer.

If you suspect Medicare fraud, report it immediately to StopMedicareFraud.gov, or call Medicare directly at 1-800-633-4227.

Tech Support

The scammer claims to be from Microsoft or Apple Tech Support. He reports a serious issue on your computer and offers to fix the problem for a fee. You should report the calls to the company the caller claims to represent.

Lesser known scams:

Unpaid Utility Bill

The caller threatens disconnection of utilities unless you make a payment immediately.

Jury Duty

Court officer says target is told he must appear for jury duty and is required to verify information. 

Business Orders

A representative says your company ordered a product and requires payment. The call works because the person ordering the products is not always the person that pays the bills.

Immigration Programs

Caller promises to help immigrants with documents or citizenship.

Credit Card Services

The caller claims to be from “card services.” He wants to explain offers, suspicious charges, or lower interest rates. The caller requests verification of information.

Prize Winner

The caller tells the victim he has won a lottery, prize, or free vacation.

Preventing a Scam 

Ask Questions

You should ask the representative his or her full name, the agency/business/charity’s name and address, and details on how funds will be distributed. The caller may not be able to answer and hang up.

Ensure the Caller is Real

Do not pay at the time of the call. Research the agency/business/charity online to verify its information. Law enforcement and government agencies can be verified online. Charities must register with the state; national organizations can be verified through The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.

Don’t Give Out Personal Information

Never give out personal or financial information. Be suspicious if the caller asks you for wire transfer, a pre-loaded debit card or use a similar means of payment.

Keep Emotions in Check

Thieves play on your emotions. They will tell sad stories about anything that will get a reaction. They may use guilt to get you to donate. Whenever a caller asks for a certain dollar amount, hang up. Fake bill collectors may use threatening language to cause fear.

Reporting Scams

Reporting scam calls can seem pointless, but it is important. Reports can cut down on calls and help other victims.

Internet-based scams, including government, dating and tech support scams, should be reported online at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Give as much information as possible.

Consumer-related fraud should be reported to the FTC via the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant. Consumer-related fraud includes a prize, vacation, lottery and sweepstakes scams, utility company scams, credit card scams, tech support scams, calls from debt collectors, fake charities, and telemarketers that violate the National Do Not Call Registry.


Pamela M