Our present is in some ways very similar to the predictions made by the cyberpunk genre of science fiction stories last century. We do have hackers, identity theft, and virtual or augmented reality. But the science fiction authors did miss one important call: The rise of phone fraud. With a mobile phone in every pocket in the 21st century, phone fraud is a threat that impacts everybody.
At first glance, solving the problem should be a simple matter of tracking the number of the offending call and reporting it. However, there are a few more steps to the process than to merely search for a cell phone number. We’ll explore the complete guide to protecting yourself from phone fraud – no matter what the caller tries to do.
Typically, a phone scam involves the scammer pretending to be anyone from an official agency, company, or even a long-lost relative. They will call numbers randomly, sometimes using a robo-dialer to dial banks of phone numbers automatically.
When they get a live voice, they launch into a scripted spiel in an attempt to get the target’s personal data, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, bank account access, and so on. The stories they use may vary from posing as a tech support representative to claiming to be from the IRS to saying they’re a debt collector or pretending that you won a contest, among many other ruses.
You should know up front that any business or government agency has a policy in place to never phone citizens out of the blue and demand personal data. If the IRS, bank, or other institution wants to get in touch with you, they will reach out through the postal service or email. If they need a phone conversation, they will include the number for you to call them.
In some cases, they make no attempt to cloak the number they’re calling from, so it’s simple enough to perform a reverse phone number lookup.
In number spoofing, the caller uses a technical hack to allow them to falsify the number to show up on caller ID. You can also use reverse phone lookup on a spoofed number since even if it comes back out-of-service or is a number belonging to an agency obviously not related to the call you’ve received, that still tells you something.
Spoofed numbers can still be traced. Report the incident to your phone carrier and local authorities, who will initiate the process of tracing the call. You can also use the last-call return feature (*69 in North America) and record the output if you missed the spoofed number. Report spoofed scam calls to the FCC which provides further resources about spoofed scam calls.
The FTC runs the Do Not Call Registry. From there, you can register your number and report unwanted calls to it. This only serves to stop telemarketing calls originating from the US, but it is the first step. Even if the number is not within the FTC’s jurisdiction, they pass the list of complaint numbers along to other government agencies and phone service providers who are working to curtail the problem through blacklisting.
Look up the number and research any complaints made at public registers for this purpose. The FCC also has a blog that posts alerts on new scams as they are reported, so check there to see if the call you received matches a tracked pattern there.
You can install apps and turn on services through your phone service provider or phone software to block numbers and otherwise control your phone calls. Check with your phone service provider or software platform app store.